Forget Black Friday, Cyber Monday! Singles’ Day is the biggest e-commerce day in the world and so far it’s only really happening in China. However while Singles’ Day is beginning to spread to other regions, American consumers are not getting involved.
Singles’ Day is a perfect example of how a savvy business latched on to a recent trend and turned it into the shopocalypse (how is this not a thing already) and shows how, in two decades, a university joke can transform into the biggest e-commerce event of all time.
Singles’ Day’s origin is both shrouded in mystery and well-publicized. The story goes that some Nanjing University students, tired of being single and unappreciated, started celebrating their single status on November 11 (11.11) by going out together and having a good time. In a country where marital status has traditionally been married or not married yet, celebrating being single was a big break from social norms. People would celebrate by buying themselves presents.
Over time this holiday grew popular at other universities. Soon young singles were having parties and going to karaoke all over the country. As the holiday grew in popularity it became less focused on just singles and all sorts of people started buying presents for themselves and their partners. Alibaba, the biggest online retailer in China, began running Singles’ Day discounts in 2009.
The Singles’ Day today
In only 5 years, Singles’ Day has grown into a monster. It’s now the biggest day in e-commerce.
- This week Alibaba reported that its customers had spent over $9bn on 11.11. $9bn ($1bn of which came in the first 20 min)!
- To put that into perspective, the biggest company in China recorded around four times last year’s total Cyber Monday sales in the US.
- Mobile sales constituted 42.6 percent up from less than 10 percent last year.
- Alibaba’s sales almost doubled from $5.8bn in 2013.
So China’s over 360 million online shoppers decided to splurge at the same time, what’s the big deal?
Co-opting Singles’ Day
Singles’ Day, like Cyber Monday, is a recent trend. It isn’t a big holiday like Christmas and unlike Cyber Monday it doesn’t ride another holiday’s coattails to its sales records.
Even though Singles’ Day grew organically in the country’s universities, its current status as the undisputed e-commerce king is largely down to one company: Alibaba. Alibaba seized on the trend and has pushed it every year, going so far as to trademark “双十一” (double 11) in 2012. Most companies struggle to get a hashtag off the ground but Alibaba has basically brought a new holiday to the mainstream.
Alibaba has grown and evolved with Singles’ Day. This year customers were able to reserve and put down a prepayment for certain discounted items on the site for a month leading up to 11.11. Alibaba has also been pushing for its retail partners to sell exclusively on their site on Singles’ Day. Uniqlo, the biggest clothes brand in Asia, which usually sells its clothes on Alibaba as well as through its own site, sold its clothes on Alibaba for one day only on 11.11.
So can you get in on the action?
Party in the front, business in the back
While SMBs might struggle to push a new holiday to the same extent that doesn’t mean that you can’t do something similar. You could:
- Get the jump on your competition by starting your Singles’ Day campaign in 2015 (make no mistake it is coming, no one can stop the shopocalypse)
- Start selling your products in China through Alibaba and tap into a market worth $9bn and growing
- Jump aboard the recent holiday train: May the Fourth, International Talk Like a Pirate Day or Festivus. Take your pick there is literally no shortage of unofficial new holidays.
So now you see the benefit of jump-starting a new holiday or co-opting an unofficial one. If Singles’ Day could grow to the world’s largest online shopping event in only five years, who knows, you could be presiding over business’ record Festivus campaign. So get out your Festivus Pole, Chrimbus Bush or your Jedi Robes and get in on the action!