China Marketing Blog

What Singles Day 2013 has taught us about marketing in China

Misha Maruma — Tue, 11/19/2013 - 17:26

For me November 11 is a day when we remember our fallen soldiers past and present. First World War hostilities ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month 1918. Known as Remembrance Day in Commonwealth countries and Veterans Day in America, the day has a totally different significance in China.

 

11/11

Singles Day is the single biggest online shopping day in China. Likened to Cyber Monday, the first Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday when people can get heavily discounted goods online, it is a day when people can indulge themselves as they have no ‘other half’ to do it for them.
 
It started as a bit of fun among young Nanjing University bachelors before developing into wider Chinese society. It gained the name ‘Singles Day’ because of the four single 1s on the day 11/11 or November eleventh. I was fascinated by it when I first came to China, mainly because of it precedence over Remembrance Day.
 
I know lots of people who were looking forward to this day and they are not always single. Chinese colleagues, western friends and University students (mainly girls I have to say) all said that they were going to see if they could find something because of the big discounts on offer.

 

A boyfriend for a day?

In recent times Singles Day has highlighted the cultural significance of not being married by the time you are 25 in China. The older generation can’t understand this and it causes conflict between grandparents, parents and children. In fact there is a market for young Chinese women who rent boyfriends to avoid being badgered by their parents.
 
Singles day is now considered a Hallmark holiday - holidays created for purely commercial reasons – by some observers. Whether this is the case or not the sales numbers that were produced are quite staggering. The Alibaba group, China’s top e-commerce company, watched consumer spending in real-time in a giant ‘war-room’.
 
The amount of information that appeared in real-time in relation to this online shopping-fest was amazing and techinasia.com reported on this excellently so there’s no need for me to rehash it here.
 
This fact caught my eye though. The total spend of the previous Cyber Monday was ‘obliterated’ by one website alone. After 12 hours of trading on Tmall.com sales had reached $2.86 billion compared to $1.46 billion during the whole of Cyber Monday. The total sales after 24 hours of trading on Alibaba’s platforms stood at $5.75 billion.
 
A comparison of Alibaba and Cyber Monday sales figures

 

What Singles Day 2013 has taught us

 
To consider the significance of Singles Day 2013 lets first look at some research done by go-globe.com about e-commerce in China.

Percentage of China's cybershoppers set to rise
(image taken from go-globe.com)

The number of online buyers is increasing in China and this trend is set to continue. According to the latest statistics from China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) only 39% of Chinese Internet users shop online whereas the rate is 70% in western countries. There is massive room for growth for marketing in China in the next few years.

Number of online buyers rising in China
(image taken from go-globe.com)

Since Alibaba launched its first sales campaign in 2009 it has seen a continuous rise in sales on its two main platforms, Tmall.com and Taobao.com during Singles Day. Sales figures have snowballed from $8.2 million in 2009 to $3.1 billion last year. This year has seen sales rise more than 83% from a year ago to $5.75 billion. More people are shopping online in China and Singles Day has shown that this is a trend that is set to continue.

B2C e-commerce sales on the rise in China
(image taken from go-globe.com)

As the above image shows e-commerce in China is set to continue its upward trend too. Alibaba might be leading the charge but rivals have joined the Singles Day bandwagon for fear of getting left behind. Other e-commerce companies, including 360buy.com, suning.com and dangdang.com have joined in marketing on the same day. Smaller rival 360buy.com began offering half-price goods from November 1 and according to its website promised to slash as much as 70% off various items.

 

A race to the bottom line

The bottom line is that Singles Day has shown there is a huge online shopping market in China. All current trends suggest that there is room for growth within various different online shopping platforms. This also suggests to me that there is still plenty of room for all sorts of brands to move into the Chinese market place.
 
While some might consider days like Singles Day and Cyber Monday as a race to the bottom, what is crystal clear is that it is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of marketing in China. The room for growth, shown by current trends, is amazing and it’s going to be fascinating to see how e-commerce develops over the next few years in China.

 

What are your thoughts about online shopping in China? Do you shop online yourself? If you have any insights that I might have missed then please leave a comment. I’d like to know what you think about this subject.

 

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Comments

November eleventh is not the first Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday, if Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.....

He means that Cyber Monday is the first Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday in USA. So, this doesn't refer to 11/11, it refers to Cyber Monday.

Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really
well written article. I'll make sure to bookmark it and come back to
read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post.

I'll definitely comeback.

As Tait said I mean the first Monday after Thanksgiving is Cyber Monday. Sorry if any confusion was caused.

I think the next step in Chinese ecommerce is the emergence of more specialized services instead of having everything in one place. I'm talking about more targeted ecommerce sites, say a site for toys, gadgets, holiday gifts or even renting a boyfriend...

I think there's scope for that Val in some more niche markets. Tmall, as a one stop shop, does well because people respect the brand and know that the goods are real. I think the singles day sales showed that. The point is there is room in the market.

Thanks for the information

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