How Brands Should Prepare for China’s Singles Day

Singles Day encourages consumers to treat themselves, becoming the world’s biggest sales holiday

Lauren Dowdle
October 24 2019

What started as an anti-Valentine’s Day celebration for singles in China back in the ‘90s has turned into the biggest online shopping event in the world. Actually, it’s the biggest online or in-store sale in the world. Celebrated on Nov. 11 each year (the four ones 11/11 represent a “bare stick”), China’s Singles Day has emerged as something much more than a holiday for relationship-less people.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba promoted this day as a way for singles to treat themselves, turning Singles Day into an online shopping event. In 2009, its first year, Alibaba had $8 million in sales across its marketplaces. Fast forward to 2018, and Singles Day brought in $30.8 billion in sales for Alibaba across their different platforms during the 24-hour sale — with a billion dollars of that coming in the first 90 seconds, according to CNBC. That was a 27% increase from 2017.

More from PostFunnel on preparing for the holidays:
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For comparison, Black Friday hit a record $6.22 billion in e-commerce sales last year, and Cyber Monday also hit a new high of $7.9 billion. Even with last year’s Cyber Monday becoming the biggest sales day in U.S. e-commerce history, it didn’t come close to touching China’s achievement with Singles Day — even when combined with Black Friday’s online sales. Alibaba’s platforms and the participating companies have proven consumers love a day of sales to treat themselves, whether they are single or not.

Retail Pulse

Being the 11th edition of the 11/11 sale, what better year to get in on the action? Here’s what makes this sales holiday stand out and how your brand should prepare for the upcoming Singles Day.

What’s the difference?

Each sales holiday has its own set of parameters and tactics that work best for brands to have success, and Singles Day is no different. For example, Black Friday and Cyber Monday both fall during the busy holiday shopping season in the United States, while Singles Day is in a slower retail season between China’s Golden Week and Chinese New Year. That makes the event all about the Singles Day sale, instead of being part of a larger holiday period.

Going back to its origin, Singles Day was created as a way for people not in relationships to celebrate. So when it became a worldwide sale day, it continued this theme and became a way for singles to treat themselves. While a good sale could be considered a treat to some, Singles Day has become more focused on providing consumers with limited-edition luxury items. It’s less about finding a ridiculously low-priced item and more about finding something extra special.

Singles Day has also become one of the biggest gifting occasions in China, ironic considering its anti-Valentine’s Day beginnings.

Beyond Black Friday and Cyber Monday, one of the next largest sales events you can compare it to is Amazon’s Prime Day — though it’s actually a two-day event now. Amazon doesn’t release its sales numbers, but the company said this year’s Prime Day was the biggest yet of the four-year sale event. Both events have included entertainment, celebrities, and giveaways and are only online.

However, there are also some key differences in Prime Day and Singles Day. Prime Day is only open to Prime subscribers, while Alibaba’s platforms are open to the public. Also, Amazon uses the sale to promote its products, and Alibaba doesn’t sell anything. Though it shares some similarities with other sales events, it really has set its own bar and standards.

Prep for sales event

While this sales holiday originated in China, brands from across the world are buying into this event. Companies like Nike, L’Oreal, Michael Kors, Philips, Skechers, and Burberry were just a few of the big names participating last year.

Some of the major brands involved with the sale spend half of the year planning for the next one, so this isn’t something you throw together at the last minute. Make sure you cover all of these bases before Nov. 11 to enjoy the most success.

Focus on experiences

One of the reasons Singles Day has been such a big success is the hype surrounding the event, ranging from celebrity appearances and concerts to fashion shows and a TV-broadcast gala. Instead of expecting the discounted product to do all of the work for you, make the sale more about the customer experience.

Localize sale

Transactions came from 230 different countries during the last Singles Day. Ensure your marketing materials and product information are translated correctly for the countries you want to target. Beyond just the wording, though, make sure the sales are culturally relevant for each location. You also need to accept different currencies and show the correct tax amounts for the locations.

[Note: Singles Day falls on Remembrance or Armistice Day in several countries, so that’s something to be mindful of.]

Provide free shipping

Of last year’s purchases on Singles Day, 99% were placed with free shipping. It isn’t just a nicety anymore — it’s an expectation from consumers.

Check availability

Only list the inventory you know you can guarantee because backorders aren’t allowed or possible. Know what your brand can offer, and let customers know if items are running low to encourage them to make the purchase.

Mobile first

Instead of making sure your site is mobile responsive, focus on making the look and feel of your mobile page the priority for this sale: 90% of sales for Singles Day came from mobile. Most transactions and shopping are done on mobile devices in China, so this sale is no different.

League of its own

As Michel Klein, Adobe’s director of industry strategy for retail, told CNBC, “Singles Day is a phenomenon around a one-day event, whereas Cyber Monday is one day during an event that spans two months.”

There’s really nothing that compares to this event, so why not start capitalizing on this worldwide sales experience?

Lauren Dowdle

Lauren Dowdle is an award-winning writer and magazine editor based in Nashville, Tenn. Her nearly decade-long writing career has covered everything from landscaping to marketing — plus being interviewed by Jay Leno and winning a backhoe-operating contest. When she’s not behind the keyboard, you’ll find her spoiling her four furry babies and exploring the city with her husband.

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