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11.11 Singles’ Day Insights

Updated: Feb 20

When doing business in China, it is important to be aware of all the Chinese national holidays and other important cultural dates. The next big day coming up is the Singles’ Day which takes place on the 11th of November every year, also referred to as 11:11 shopping festival. This day has evolved into one of the world’s largest retail events, and is an opportunity for brands to connect with Chinese consumers. In this guide, we will explore the key aspects foreign brands need to focus on when preparing for the 11.11 Shopping Festival.

Chinese people looking at their phones with shopping bags in front of them

Facts about Singles' Day

The story behind Singles’ day

Singles’ Day, originating in China in 1993, is a unique and somewhat ironic celebration of singlehood. Started by college students at Nanjing University, it was a rebellious response to couple-centric holidays like Valentine's Day. These students crafted a day of events to break free from societal pressure to be in relationships. This concept quickly spread beyond their campus, resonating with both men and women and reaching other universities in China.

They collectively decided that November 11, or 11/11, would be the perfect day to celebrate being single, as the date visually represents four ones, or four singles, standing together. The name of the holiday literally translates as "single stick holiday", which is Chinese internet slang for an unmarried man who does not add 'branches' to the family tree. Today, Singles’ day has many nicknames such as Double 11 and 11.11 Shopping Festival.

The propagation of Singles' Day accelerated with the advent of social media, gaining traction and momentum over the years. Today, it has become an integral part of contemporary Chinese culture and society. This day provides a unique opportunity for unmarried individuals to pamper themselves with gifts and presents, effectively reclaiming the joy of being single in a world often obsessed with romantic relationships.

Ironically, despite its origins as a celebration of singlehood, Singles’ Day has also become a popular date for couples to mark their love. In a surprising twist, more than 4,000 couples in Beijing chose to get married on this date in 2011, dwarfing the daily average of 700 marriages. This paradoxical shift demonstrates how this holiday, rooted in the idea of independence, has evolved to embrace and celebrate various forms of love and relationships.

From the Celebration of Being Single to a Commercial Holiday

Although not an officially recognized public holiday in China, Singles' Day has become the largest online shopping day in the world. It all started in 2009 with the founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, who got the idea to use the holiday to generate more sales and started promoting the holiday with the slogan:

"Even if you don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, you can at least shop like crazy" - Jack Ma
A hand holding a credit card in front of a computer

With these iconic words, Alibaba founder Jack Ma transformed Singles' Day (11.11), a celebration of singlehood, into the year's largest Global Shopping Festival. As November 11 approaches, the anticipation for the incredible discounts and promotions offered annually by Alibaba Group, particularly through Taobao and Tmall, fills the air with excitement for many consumers.

As depicted in the graph below, showing Alibaba’s gross merchandise volume on Singles’ Day, the holiday has transformed into a massive consumer festival, experiencing consistent growth each year. Notably, in 2022, Alibaba broke from its tradition of disclosing sales data for Singles' Day, instead, the company merely mentioned that sales were "in line" with those of 2021. Speculations suggest that the growth in 2022 might not have been as significant, likely influenced by the prevailing economic conditions in China after years of dealing with the impact of Covid.

Alibaba's gross merchandise volume on Single's Day from 2011 to 2021

Despite the stagnation in sales volume in 2022, the event has now become nearly four times the size of America's biggest shopping days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Tips for Foreign Brands to Prepare for the Holiday

Participating in China's Singles' Day festival presents a significant opportunity for foreign brands to tap into the vast Chinese consumer market. Beyond traditional retail, businesses such as restaurants, karaoke parlors, and online shopping malls have found success in targeting younger consumers during this celebration. To make the most of this event, it's essential to be well-prepared.

One key aspect to remember is that despite being dubbed "Double 11," the sales don't begin on November 11; they kick off on October 20, turning the whole event into a month-long shopping "marathon." Starting promotions early is crucial to boost customer enthusiasm and intent to buy. Employing promotion and discount tactics is one of the most effective ways to attract Chinese consumers and stimulate their desire to purchase. Leveraging Chinese digital platforms like WeChat, Weibo, and Xiaohongshu can help you showcase your product discounts effectively. Additionally, offering coupons at low prices during the 11.11 festival is a strategy that resonates with Chinese consumers, often encouraging them to make their first purchase.

During the Holiday

As 11.11 Singles' Day approaches, it's crucial to understand the role of social media and live-streaming in building trust and connecting with Chinese consumers. These platforms offer a direct and influential way to communicate with your audience. Live-streaming is a pivotal element in the Singles' Day sales strategy, often led by celebrities and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). It's a means to captivate consumers, showcase product demonstrations, and generate substantial sales. Live commerce, combining ecommerce with entertainment, is another highlight, featuring exclusive discounts, giveaways, and 24-hour streaming during the entire festival period. A significant percentage of Chinese consumers tune in to watch livestreams during Singles' Day.

During this festival, numerous brands leverage the opportunity to launch limited-edition products and exclusive capsule collections. This strategy not only helps drive sales but also demonstrates a commitment to customer satisfaction and loyalty. Brands understand that these endeavors have a lasting impact on building strong, long-term relationships with their customers, making it a valuable approach for foreign businesses seeking success during Singles' Day.

Strategies for Long-term Success and Sustainability

While discounts and promotions can offer a short-term boost in sales, it's crucial to be mindful of the evolving landscape. The market is shifting towards emphasizing customer engagement and loyalty over immediate sales figures. Understanding the importance of offering value-for-money products in the current economic climate is essential.

First-party data and self-owned channels, both online and offline, are gaining significance, enabling brands to build lasting customer loyalty. While livestreaming is impactful, it should be viewed as one element of a broader marketing strategy. Brands are increasingly focusing on educating and building trust with consumers.

Exercise caution when relying solely on short-term solutions like discounts, promotions, and live commerce, as these strategies, while effective in the short term, could lead to diluted profits and the potential loss of future business. A more sustainable approach focuses on long-term customer engagement and comprehensive omnichannel strategies.

Want help preparing for the holiday? Leaf Digital will help you with the marketing and guide you safely through the holiday.

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