November 11 marks Singles’ – or Bachelors’ – Day, an unofficial Chinese holiday that centres around shopping and those who are not in relationships. Though it's not an official public holiday, the day is marked simply because it is the largest offline and online shopping day in the world. And the origins behind it are quite something…
As a date 11/11 is not only chosen because it included the number ‘one’ but more so because when written numerically, 1 resembles a bare stick and in Chinese slang represents an unmarried man ‘who does not add branches to the family tree’. Ironically, the date was also a popular day to celebrate relationships in 2011 seeing over 4,000 weddings take place in China on the date.
The luxury market is a key player in China’s shopping habits and P.I.G. executive producer Yuni He explains that this year has seen a boom in luxury fashion being added to the list of products set to be snapped up. “Chinese media has coined this as China’s ‘Decade of Luxe’, in the past 24 months alone. LVMH, Kering and all the other luxury players have hosted countless runways, exhibitions, immersive experiences and traveling roadshows in the Middle Kingdom, all in response to the unbelievable wave of ‘revenge luxury spending’ that’s taken hold of the country since Covid started. This has also translated into a lot more advertising content for Singles Day coming from fashion and luxury clients. Moncler, Dior, Burberry and Bottega Veneta, just to name a few.”
GREY Hong Kong general manager Duffy Lau revealed that last year the day was the cause of $74 billion in gross merchandising volume according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. He adds: “Stepping into the 13th year of Singles' Day, the event still shows strong growth potential to break a new record.”
Duffy explains that there are three aspects that determine the success of the festival: presales or warm-up; a presale model that involves a deposit to guarantee consumer access to the event; and livestreams. The concept of livestream ecommerce in China is, as it says, a show of products presented by influencers and brands that really took off during the pandemic and lockdowns.
Livestream shopping combines instant purchasing of a product through the use of a chat function and has been a key player in China’s shopping scene over the past five years
. FCB China chief strategy officer Steve Xue explains how this year’s event will be using livestream: “The estimated hours of live streaming for Single's Day 2021 covering all platforms will achieve a fourfold increase compared with last year. During the pre-sale livestreaming on Oct 20, the transaction volumes of top influencers Li Jiaqi and Wei Ya reached 10.65 billion Yuan and 8.25 billion Yuan respectively.”
While DDB China group CEO and president Matthew Cheng says that the use of these famous faces has increased trust with consumers when it comes to products and the prices recommended during livestreams. He adds that this year consumers’ e-commerce store memberships have been a huge booster in providing a completely new service. “This type of management has been more and more effective since the June 18 shopping festival – another smaller sales festival launched by Alibaba and JD, the top two e-commerce players in China.”
McCann China general manager Shu Wu adds that in addition to new features for this year, the shopping festivities kicked off earlier in 2021, on October 22 which was good news for shoppers who tend to stay up for sales. “With the extension of shopping time, shoppers didn’t have to stay up late to get special discounts. Broadcasts of specific details about promotion offerings and time slots for each category has ensured more orderly shopping and timely delivery. This year’s Double 11 gives sufficient time for every brand to strike a balance between a variety of fun and quality in merchandising.”
However, BBDO Greater China head of planning Katy Guan argues that after 13 years of the sales, the annual event is no longer deemed unique. “People can easily get discounts from Livestream Channels everyday. Although there are still numerous consumers who would participate, the tiredness, lack of excitement and the reflection on consumerism is beginning to emerge. More and more consumers are starting to look for a deeper meaning and purpose for purchases.
“Moving forward, Double 11 would probably need to evolve from being a platform for people to ‘purchase better’ to ‘purchase with better purpose’.” One example of doing things for a better purpose was a collaboration with The China Foundation for Disabled Persons and Tmall who created ‘One Shoe’, a project to highlight the disabled community and to change the way consumers treat shoe-shopping.
Hamlet China’s managing partner Yimeng Zhan is of this thought too. She believes that while the sales in one Singles’ Day can equate to the majority of a brand’s revenue for a year, it's no longer unique. There are shopping events each month that have more of an impact for consumers. She adds: “Also, there’s a new trend of live streaming sales which takes place literally 24/7 to still any consumption desire. Clearly, the obsession over Single’s Day has worn off over the past years with consumers becoming more conscious about their choices.”
When speaking to experts about what Singles’ Day will look like, the name Alibaba was brandished around a lot. But a consumer reliance on the e-commerce site got GOUMEE’s partner Tim Shi thinking about the dependence consumers have towards the platform. “Consumers' inertia dependence on Alibaba platform is gradually weakening, and changes in the e-commerce environment require the platform to make more changes to fit with consumer needs. Ali's response is also worth looking forward to. This year, Double Eleven will be a point of competition between traditional e-commerce business platforms like T-Mall, Jing Dong, Pinduoduo etc, and short video live streaming platforms such as TikTok and the Kuai Shou.”
M&C Saatchi aeiou chairman Tony Liu adds that going into this year Alibaba is in a strong position but ‘but the overall growth momentum is bound to slow down compared with previous years’.
This year the platform has provided a more muted celebration with a focus on sustainability
. There is an emphasis on regulation for the biggest companies and China and with sustainability being a hot topic of the moment Alibaba chief marketing officer Chris Tung told publications that the brand is shifting focus to more sustainable growth.
GREY’s Duffy adds that environmentally-friendly consumers have been on the minds of brands this year with new mediums set to entice them in. “Tmall committed to advocating Green Shopping this year as Singles' Day was criticised as one of the events with wastage during the shopping season because of excessive delivery boxes and packaging, etc. In response, Tmall launched 100 million Green Shopping Coupons and installed new re-packaging logistic stations in 20 cities.”
Looking at this year’s festivities Wunderman Thompson Greater China managing partner of commerce James Bay sees two major trends: diversification of e-commerce and the rise of domestic travel retail.
Put simply, this year is the first since the pandemic where brands have an opportunity to utilise the power of digital in business which James believes has provided a shift away from platforms such as Tmall to new commerce platforms. “Singles Day more than ever is becoming a wider full ecosystem event, less so just about the selected few marketplaces.”
When looking at retail he believes that overseas travel restrictions have meant that domestic travel is the way for duty-free sales to rise. “Duty-free retailers have quickly adopted aggressively into ecommerce, social commerce and membership-based business models. This has also chipped away at business of some categories like imported beauty, prestige/luxury & infant formulas due to the tax-free nature of Travel Retail.” Add these changes into what will be an interesting Singles’ Day and Duffy believes that brands that refresh their formula and deliver unique experiences will be winners this year.
With hours to go until the event and brands from across the globe making the shopping experience ‘a thing’, time will tell how this year fares compared to the previous 12 but expect plenty from the world of sustainability, luxury and convenience.