On 11 November China will be celebrating Singles' Day again, the biggest shopping frenzy in the world. Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Amazon Prime Day are dwarfed by the day when Chinese shopping fans celebrate themselves.
Five times bigger than Black Friday
Singles' Day has grown into the ultimate celebration of consumerism thanks to online retail platform Alibaba. Last year, the festivities brought in 25 billion dollars worth of online sales - more than one billion dollars per hour! By comparison, the infamous Black Friday chaos in the US is nothing special, with 'only' five billion dollar in online sales.
The festival is said to have raised more money in China last year than all online purchases during the so-called Cyber Weekend – between Black Friday and Cyber Monday – in the United States, Canada and Europe put together. Even during the entire five-day period from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, the Americans only purchased 19.62 billion dollars (14.5 billion euros) worth of online turnover. Amazon tried to reply by launching Prime Day, a two-day event with stunt prices for Prime members, but is left in the dust: the estimated turnover this year was 3.6 billion dollars (3.1 billion euros), and that was spread out over 48 hours.
Singles’ Day does not belong solely to Alibaba
In 1993 four single students at Nanjing University decided to celebrate 11/11 (all ones and as such the most alone day of the year) as a day for singles. Since then, it grew from a local event to a national Chinese and even worldwide phenomenon. Singles' Day is far more than just a discount day: Alibaba did not invent it, but it did claim it under the name '11.11 Global Shopping Festival' and made it into a vast media spectacular including worldwide celebrities such as Nicole Kidman and Pharell Williams last year.
China has some 200 million singles, making the day a welcome counterpoint to Valentine's Day: a moment to treat yourself with fun activities or presents. Alibaba took the opportunity to turn 11.11 Global Shopping Festival into an unprecedented ode to consumerism, but its main rival JD.com also managed to rake in 16 billion euros worth of turnover on the same day.
Many Chinese spend 11 November watching their screens while shopping, playing and chatting on their smartphones. Over 90% of the purchases last year were done via smartphone or tablet: the Chinese are very much mobile shoppers, and Alibaba uses that during Singles' Day by having people fill their virtual carts in advance. This allows them to make everything ready so they only have to check out on the day itself – at high discounts. That way, Alibaba manages to avoid the overload crashes Amazon was struggling with on this year's Prime Day. Last year, the first few minutes brought in 5 billion sales for Alibaba, with 256,000 transactions per second at peak times.
Each competitor its own discount day
Given the overwhelming success, it is no wonder that Alibaba's competitors are coming up with their own shopping festivals, hoping to seduce the Chinese shopping fans to even more consumer craziness, said China expert Xavier Brochart during the RetailDetail China retailhunt 2018. "All ecosystems come up with their own festivals, and so we actually have a festival every two weeks. Those days are the most important moments to stimulate sales and hand out discounts, so retailers make exclusive deals with players like Alibaba and join their sales day," observes Brochart.
This year the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival starts on November 10th at 14h CET. Alibaba is expecting more than a billion orders this year: the company is opening a new robot-operated distribution centre this year. Last year the retail platform received over 810 million orders.
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