Nov 19, 20185 min read

Understand Singles’ Day – the world’s biggest shopping event.


You know the obsession people have about Christmas in the western world – weeks of shopping, preparations, socialising, writing to-do lists and wishlists, and so on. That’s the kind of obsession people in China have with Singles’ Day. In just ten years, it has become the most influential sales day in the world, online or offline: bigger than the Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

In just 24 hours on 11 November 2017, the two online shopping centres and made $25 billion and $19 billion, respectively, in sales. That’s more than most countries do in a year, and about three times the combined revenue of Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US.

Ten years after Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma launched this event, it’s still growing 20-30 percent per year. It has become a monster. It’s like nothing else the world has ever seen. Imagine one billion people squeezed into just two shopping malls trying to do all their Christmas shopping on a single day…. then you are just beginning to understand the heat of this event.

Singles’ Day is now starting to spread into the western world as well, and while it may get as much traction as Black Friday and Cyber Monday in a few years’ time, it will unlikely come even close to the Chinese madness, and you’ll understand why later in this article.

“If you can’t be with someone you like, you can at least be with something you like”

The name “Singles’ Day” originated in 1993 when a few students at Nanjing University grew tired of lamenting being partnerless and, as a joke, decided to celebrate their singleness instead. The date 11:11 was chosen as it resembles 4 solitary bare sticks, looking like a congregation of singles.

“The commercial logic of Singles’ Day is that you don’t have to wait for a gift to enjoy something new or exciting,” writes Forbes. “This spirit is captured by a Chinese saying, ‘If you cannot be with someone you like, you can at least be with something you like’”.

But Singles’ Day is much more than that; more than an opportunity to save money on over 15 million deep-discounted products.

Singles’ Day in China is social shopping

“What people in the west don’t get about Singles’ Day is how social it is,” says Tom Xiong, a serial entrepreneur who moved to China in 2014, and co-host of the Swedish podcast Den Digitala Draken (“The Digital Dragon”).

“For a start, during Singles’ Day people love comparing their shopping carts, saying things like ‘you should try this too’, talking about all the great deals, and strategizing how to put different deals together to save money.”

But shoppers are not just after the deep discounts of up to 90 percent.

“What’s so fascinating is how people become extremely open to buying things during this day. You see guys who have never bought a body lotion before, now showing a sudden interest in them. And people who normally buy low-priced body lotion start shopping for more luxury brands. Singles’ Day is an event when people discover new categories for the fun of it with friends and colleagues.”

People’s willingness to try things out is a golden opportunity for brands.

Why brands love Singles’ Day

“As everyone knows, one of the hardest and most expensive things you can do as a retailer is to inspire those people who aren’t yet into the kind of product you sell. Singles Day suddenly gives you an opportunity to acquire customers in new market segments,” explains Tom Xiong.

His company Move Shanghai is a digital service which gives its members access to premium exercise locations like swimming pools at 5-star hotels, attractive yoga studios, gyms, basketball courts and so on.

“On Singles’ Day we allow people to join for a limited period by just paying a very small amount. Because of our high margins, we could offer that kind of discount more often, but we don’t. That would hurt our brand. Singles’ Day is the one day of the year you get away with it.”

The event has been described as a super-bowl for big brands where they can test new product launches, segments, and creative marketing campaigns. However, the most exciting innovation is happening on the backend.

For example, trucks drive around cities loaded with popular products, serving as both storage space and delivery vehicles. The fastest delivery last year took under ten minutes.

One billion packages – but they don’t even get noticed

Way more than one billion packages will be delivered by over three million people as a result of the intense Singles’ Day shopping event this year. But they will go largely unnoticed.

“Here you see deliveries everywhere, all the time, any day of the year. No one here thinks ‘e-commerce business is so cool’; it’s just a part of everyday life. When I want a cup of coffee I use my phone app and it’s delivered in a few minutes, the same with food. When I’m missing a computer cable, I just order one and get it delivered, that’s how people here do it. People who don’t live in China don’t get how big and integrated e-commerce is in everyday life.


Don’t miss: E-commerce in China: 3 things you need to know