Explainer: Why do millions of people choose to shop online on November 11?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 November, 2017, 6:16pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 November, 2017, 9:49pm

What is Singles’ Day?

Singles’ Day, marked as a calendar item every November 11 since 2009, is promoted by Alibaba Group Holding as a 24-hour shopping gala, where hundreds of thousands of brands from China and around the world offer steep discounts on its Taobao market place, and Tmall online stores. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

How did it start?

The first Singles’ Day event was launched in 2009. The initial idea was to promote Taobao, a marketplace similar to eBay. Alibaba asked taking part retailers to offer at least 50 per cent discount. Only 27 merchants took part in the 2009 sale, reporting 50 million yuan (US$7.5 million) in merchandise sold.

Two years later, Tmall was spun out from Taobao’s consumer-to-consumer marketplace business, and became the go-to store for 70,000 international and Chinese brands. Alibaba’s mobile payment affiliate Alipay set a record for the highest daily number of transactions, at 33.69 million.

Why is it a big deal?

With more than 120 billion yuan worth of merchandise sold in 24 hours last year, China’s Singles’ Day is more than 18 times the size of Amazon’s Prime Day and 2.5 times bigger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. Last year, the top countries selling to China by gross merchandise value (GMV) were Japan, US, South Korea, Australia and Germany. It is the largest 24 hours of online shopping on earth, underscoring how Chinese consumers have embraced mobile internet technology, online shopping and e-payment faster than anybody else.

What’s on offer?

Apart from clothing, shampoo and toys, offerings in recent years have extended to vouchers for motor vehicles, overseas trips and even power boats. The top product categories last year were: apparel & accessories, skin care & cosmetics, food & drink, maternity & babies, and mobile phones & digital products. In 2016, the top US brands ranked by GMV included Apple, Nike, New Balance, Playboy and Sketchers while top European brands were Siemens, Philips, Adidas, Jack Jones and Only.

What are some of the brands on offer in 2017?

Alibaba said foreign brands including Gap, Bose, Casio, C&A, Vero Moda, Jack Jones and Miss Sixty would be shown in its smart stores, where customers can experience a new facial recognition-powered payment solution and receive discount recommendations on Tmall/Taobao apps.

Tmall will open 60 pop-up stores in 52 malls across 12 Chinese cities, partnering with more than 100 domestic and international brands such as P&G, Estée Lauder, Beats, Siemens, Wyeth, Unilever, Casio, L’Oreal, and Lego.

So what’s new about the 2017 Singles’ Day?

To ensure Singles’ Day get as much as airtime as possible, a so-called pre-sale period actually started in October, during which the discounts on more than 15 million products across 140,000 brands were extensively promoted.

To promote its “new retail” vision, Alibaba said more than 1 million merchants will offer online-offline services. This year there will be “smart store” customers shopping using facial-recognition technology, and AI-powered shop assistants offering recommendations through Taobao and Tmall, while customers browse in brick-and-mortar stores.

Does Alibaba own Singles' Day?

Alibaba registered at least nine trademarks associated with the “Double Eleven,” or 11.11 brand, with the State Administration of Industry & Commerce in 2012 and 2013. A trademark spat broke out in 2014 between Alibaba and its rival JD.com after the Beijing-based e-commerce firm posted a letter from Alibaba’s Tmall Marketplace on its social media account, which warned Chinese publishers against running advertisements with the “Double Eleven” motif that were not official Alibaba promotions.

However, shoppers can find promotions outside Alibaba’s platforms on Singles’ Day.

What else happens on Singles’ Day?

If the discounts are considered inadequate, customers can play games to win vouchers and coupons to use on Singles’ Day. The typical Singles’ Day celebration involves a gala event produced by Oscar producer David Hill, and featuring celebrities from David Beckham to Kobe Bryant. This year’s headline celebrities will include musician Pharrell Williams and tennis star Maria Sharapova.