China’s Singles Day dwarfs the West’s Cyber Monday and Black Friday shopping days in terms of engagement and sales. And Singles Day – and the powers like Alibaba that drive it – very much have the West in their sights. So, what can Western eCommerce platforms and brands learn in order to take advantage of this incredible sales opportunity?
What is Singles Day?
Shoppers in the West are well aware of the pre-Christmas Cyber Monday and Black Friday sales sensations, which together generated an astounding $14.1 billion in consumer sales in 2018.
Singles Day (or Guanggun Jie), which originated in China, is an increasingly significant shopping day that takes place on 11 November each year initially designed as a special event where single people (i.e. those not in a relationship) can indulge by buying themselves a gift.
And when we say ‘increasingly significant’, you better believe it, because Singles Day completely blows Cyber Monday and Black Friday out of the water in terms of sales.
All previous eCommerce sales records for a single day were decimated during Singles Day 2018, with Chinese Amazon counterpart Alibaba (which totally dominates Singles Day) generating a mind-blowing $30.8 billion in the space of 24 hours – including $1 billion in the first minute and 25 seconds .
A Chinese spending extravaganza – but one attracting more and more Western brands
Though it started out as one, it would be misguided to think that Singles Day is still just a Chinese sales phenomenon. Far from it.
Alibaba’s strategy has been to attract Western brands – and the list of 2018 Singles Day winners below goes to show that Alibaba is very much succeeding on that front.
And analysts are certain that Singles Day will boom in Europe (the USA may be a bit trickier, given the proximity of the date to Thanksgiving) in the very near future. Shoppers in the UK, for instance, spent over £1bn during Singles Day 2018 – up nearly 15 per cent on 2017 , while the Russians spend ten times as much and the Spanish five times as much on Singles Day as they do on a normal day. 
An increasingly international event
More than 19,000 international (non-Chinese) brands – a record number – participated in Singles Day, resulting in a major spike in sales from imports into China.
And Singles Day sales grew by 24 per cent in comparison with the previous year to reach that mammoth $30.8 billion figure.
For international brands, this means that Singles Day can be an important opportunity to drive product sales growth in China.
Meanwhile, Singles Day’s popularity increases across the globe, with multinational eCommerce sites offering big discounts and heavily promoting the shopping event, resulting in major increases in their customer sales and orders.
China as eCommerce trendsetter
In our blog China is the trendsetter for the digital economy and the blog article series Evolution of eCommerce: from retail to social networks, from China to the Western world, we extolled the virtues of Chinese eCommerce platforms and the trailblazing things they are doing to drive enormous sales.
And we shared learnings designed to help Western eCommerce and eRetailers understand how they can follow in China’s footsteps.
Some of the key aspects of the Chinese approach that Western operators absolutely must follow are that they must take a mobile-first approach to content and develop great content that creates great shopping experiences that in turn create considerably greater conversions in sales.
The huge internal digital infrastructure plan that China set out for itself at the beginning of the 2009 global financial crisis has paid incredible dividends by paving the way for a mobile-internet-savvy generation of shoppers and a culture completely comfortable with eCommerce.
The digital Chinese culture has generated a huge volume of willing shoppers that are ready to spend big online, especially when an opportunity full of deals, exciting shopping experiences and promotions like Singles Day comes along.
Key learnings – mobile-first and great creative content strategies vital to eCommerce success
One key learning that Western brands can take from the way that consumers behave during Singles Day is that more than 90 per cent of product research and shopping took place on mobile devices, compared with 34 per cent mobile on Cyber Monday. 
This goes to show that Western eCommerce platforms and brands have a great deal more to do to drive mobile traffic and improve mobile shopping experiences that are proven to improve sales.
Another learning, and it directly relates to how far ahead Chinese eCommerce platforms and brands are when it comes to providing fantastically engaging shopping experiences, is that great creative content like online games and interactive shows drives incredible consumer engagement.
A prime example is the four-hour, star-studded concert in Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena, watched by 240 million online viewers that kicked off Singles Day 2018 and helped put consumers in the mindset for some serious spending. 
Bold discounts and special Singles Day product strategies paid off
We saw that Western skincare and cosmetics brands like Lancôme, and Estée Lauder smashed through the $14.4 million mark on Singles Day last year.
One vital factor that helped them achieve this enormous success was their respective bold discount strategies, with an average price cut of 30 per cent boosting their market share to between 12 and 15 per cent, up from the typical 3 to 5 per cent on another day.
Some brands also really benefited from using Singles Day as a launch pad for new products and to grasp the attention of shoppers with eye-catching variations on their products or packaging.
Budweiser, meanwhile, created a Singles Day special edition packaging of its beer and sold all 30,000 packs, and Johnson & Johnson introduced new Listerine flavours designed to suit young Chinese female palettes.
In conclusion – the West needs to plan and strategise for Singles Day
China’s internet mobile-shopping culture makes it ripe for spending online, and Singles Day – and platforms like Alibaba – have been able to capitalise on it.
China’s and state-owned Alibaba’s strategy are eager to bring Western brands and consumers into this festival of spending – and who would count against them doing so? But Alibaba doesn’t have a monopoly on Singles Day, so there are also huge opportunities there for Western eCommerce platforms to take advantage of.
Western brands, meanwhile, should strategise around Singles Day not just for its sales potential but also to increase brand awareness and loyalty in Chinese (and South Asian) markets.
Those opportunities are not just going to fall into their laps, though.
Western brands like Lancôme, Dyson and Nike have already began to form extremely lucrative strategic retail partnerships with Alibaba, and other brands must follow suit by forming similar strategic relationships and planning marketing campaigns around Singles Day.
If they don’t, they run the serious risk of missing out on a prize considerably greater than Cyber Monday and Black Friday combined.
This article was created and written by the eBusiness Institute team.
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