11.11 advert

Singles Day is the biggest shopping day in China. It is even bigger than America’s huge online discount shopping fest Cyber Monday. But what do marketers need to know about Singles Day in China?

Last year I wrote about what the event in 2013 taught us about marketing in China. This year I’m going to examine the significance of Singles Day and try to understand everything marketers ought to know about it.


What’s in a name

For a start the name Singles Day is rather misleading. I put it to my colleagues in relationships that this was a day for singles to spoil themselves. I was given short shrift. They pointed out that in Chinese the day isn’t called Singles Day, but is rather marketed as Double 11 (双十一).

In fact pretty much every Chinese person I know is waiting for November 11 to purchase something during the sale, or will at least browse to see what deals are available. The amount of ads in bus stops, on billboards and on TV promoting the sale is staggering.

And the promotion of this event doesn’t end there. I have a WeChat subscription account for Gap and below is the latest message they sent to subscribers.

Gap WeChat subscription account Double 11 ad

The advert headline says: ‘Gap Tmall “11.11” is coming!’ The Gap Tmall store is offering 50% off items.

But it’s not just Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms that are cashing in on this event. Over the past few years companies such as SuningJingdong and Dangdang have all promoted heavy discounts on November 11.

Jingdong offers various discounts and free delivery even for the smallest deals. Suning starts its sales three days earlier and Dangdang runs a month long sale in the lead up to Double 11.

This has all caused a war of words between Alibaba and these other companies over the name Double 11. The e-commerce giant forced Suning to abandon an ad campaign recently over the use of the term ‘Double 11’.


Double 11 by numbers

To get an idea of how Double 11 has evolved since it was first started by Alibaba in 2009 lets take a look at some of the figures involved.

Just focussing on Alibaba’s two main shopping platforms Taobao and Tmall, in 2009 US$8 million (at that day’s exchange rate) was spent by shoppers during the 24 hours of November 11. The first time only 27 brands were involved in the shopping extravaganza.

By 2010 the total spent on Double 11 increased to US$150 million (at that day’s exchange rate) a significant increase. In 2011 the leap to US$832 million spent by shoppers during the 24-hour discount period really caught people’s attention.

By 2012 the sales day figures reached the multiple billions with netizens spending US$3.1 billion on goods during the 24-hour discount period. The significance of this was highlighted by the fact that this was first time that China’s biggest one day sale was bigger than America’s Cyber Monday.

At the end of November 2012 US shoppers spent a total of US$1.46 billion online in what is America’s biggest e-commerce shopping event.

Last year the sales figures for Double 11 reached epic proportions with Taobao and Tmall sales hitting US$5.7 billion in 24 hours. To put this in perspective, in the first quarter of 2014 Taobao and Tmall had average daily sales of US$816 million.

Double 11 2013 ad

Image source: buychina.com


Continuing upward trend?

Who would bet against the sales figures this year continuing on their upward trend? A survey last year by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) found that 92% of the country’s internet users said they would make purchases on November 11.

The survey predicted that this year Tmall, Taobao, Jindong, and Yixun.com would have total sales of US$13 billion during the 24-hour shopping period.

Techinasia.com also made some predictions for the 2014 Double 11 sales day. They report that in Q3 this year the average daily spent on Taobao and Tmall was US$984 million.

According to their analysis they predict Alibaba’s two main shopping platforms could see expenditure 10 times higher than a normal day, with up to US$10 billion being spent in one day on Alibaba’s two e-stores.

Techinasia.com 2014 predicted sales

Last year JD.com reported that they had three times the sales of a regular day during Double 11. Suning reported that they did double the business on the big day last year.


Mobile shopping

And as mobile becomes an ever more popular method of netizens going online, Alibaba reported that two million shoppers used Taobao and Tmall through mobile devices in the first minute of Double 11 last year. Within an hour of the sale starting, US$163 million in transactions had been handled through the mobile sites.

In 2013 some 13.7 million people logged onto Tmall.com in the first minute of November 11. 86% of Chinese consumers did their online shopping on Tmall. 81% used Taobao as their shopping destination, with Jingdong attracting 52%, Amazon with 21% and 51buy with 12%.

Tmall sold 1.6 million bras in just one hour. Two million pairs of underwear were sold during the sale. Dangdang.com, the online bookseller, received more than 100,000 orders in one hour.

In 2013 the best selling shop on Tmall was Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone maker. In fact Xiaomi was the first vendor on Tmall to record sales of US$16 million (100 million RMB). It reached this figure in just 33 minutes. Xiaomi’s total transactions hit US$88 million, way ahead of Haier in second place with US$29 million.

In fact as Double 11 becomes more popular so bigger brands want to get a slice of the action.

This year Tesla Motors has decided to sell its Model S through Tmall. Buyers can place a deposit of US$8,200 for an electric car. General Motors and Volkswagen have also launched similar marketing campaigns to coincide with the huge shopping day.


Something for everyone

There is something for everyone on Double 11 in China. The girls in my office have been telling me of the items they plan to purchase on November 11. The goods range from clothes and shoes to electronic equipment and kids toys.

A lot of people have their shopping basket prepared for the day. They have already shopped ahead of the big day and plan just to purchase the items when the discounts kick in at midnight. Alipay said that in the first minute of the sale in 2013 it handled 339,200 transactions.

What marketers need to understand about Double 11 or Singles day (due to the four single ones) is that China’s popular e-commerce companies enjoy sales exponentially greater than the average day.

The public have bought into the whole idea of waiting until the big day to purchase items that they maybe have wanted for a while. The Chinese are great savers and it seems are willing to wait until the right time to get a good deal.

In fact something that marketers ought to understand about Double 11 is that it’s pretty much exclusively marketed to a Chinese audience. Two days ago my friend from the UK was telling me about lots of new stuff he’d just bought on Tmall.

He was so happy with the price he got the items for. I asked why he didn’t wait a few days to get 50% off everything. He didn’t know what I was talking about.


Cover image source: learnmorechina.com

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