Are you ready for 11.11?

Shopping is one of China’s national sports and 11.11 or ‘Singles’ Day’, where the e-commerce platforms lay the perfect hunting grounds, is a day where records are broken.

What’s the deal with 11.11?

11.11 (the 11th of November) marks Singles’ Day or 光棍节 Guanggunjie. The idea originated in the 90s, when on this day Chinese university students without a date would organize group activities to be united in their loneliness.  The date resembles a pair of single 1’s (11.11) which also looks like sticks or 棍子 gun zi.  The Chinese name then evolved to 光棍 guanggun which translates to “single person” or “bachelor”.  Over the years it has evolved into a day to celebrate singledom; a bachelor or bachelorette’s response to Valentine’s Day (no doubt aided by the gentle encouragement of marketing and advertising agencies…)

In 2009, Jack Ma and his team at Alibaba Group Holdings decided to leverage off this unofficial celebration and heralded 11.11 as a national shopping event.  Each year on 11.11, Alibaba’s various e-commerce platforms including Taobao, TMall and the more foreigner-friendly platform AliExpress, showcase heavily discounted products and services.  Everything from kitchen appliances to cars to airline tickets can be purchased for a fraction of the retail price during this 24-hour online shopping frenzy.

To understand the magnitude of this annual shopping event, it is helpful to take a look at the numbers from last year: approximately 13.7 million buyers ordered something in the first minute and within 24 hours more than a billion transactions took place on Alibaba’s platforms.  When the bell ringed signaling the end of Singles’ Day 2016, it was reported that USD17.8b was spent online.  By way of context, the second largest worldwide shopping event that would come close to this spending level would be Black Friday in the US, where in the same year and same month, gross sales came in at a mere USD3.34b.

Why should we care?

The phenomenal success of Singles’ Day is a snapshot of the times we are living in.  China’s consumers are active, captive and connected by device, with more than 82% of the online transactions during last year’s Singles’ Day taking place via mobile application.  Alibaba has intelligently capitalized on the consumer and technological trends that 21st century China has experienced over the last 10 years.  It is a culture of early adoption and rapid pace, where e-commerce is not seen as an add-on to a company’s marketing strategy, but increasingly the main event.  It should be noted that Alibaba’s platforms do not themselves sell; they merely provide the interface or platform to enable the buyer to meet the seller.  Alibaba makes money by selling advertising space to sellers and takes a commission from larger retailers.

Frank Lavin (CEO of Export Now, a leading operator of China e-commerce stores for international brands such as Victoria’s Secret and Samsonite) aptly puts it: “China is the fastest growing consumer market in the world and e-commerce is the fastest-growing channel in that market…11.11 is a chance to speak to these China consumers” (

What Alibaba has done with Singles’ Day is turn it into a celebration of e-commerce.  Celebrities, rock stars, pop stars and sports stars are flown in to help celebrate and the numbers generated from the country’s annual “spend-a-thon” are lit up on a big screen, with analysts eagerly noting down the breakdown of consumer metrics and data by industry, brand category, spending level, region etc.

China is the fastest growing consumer market in the world and e-commerce is the fastest-growing channel in that market…11.11 is a chance to speak to these China consumers”

What can we expect from this year?

Alibaba notes its strategy this year is to take Singles’ Day global with a stronger focus on imported products and services, as well as promoting its Chinese brands to overseas buyers.  Alibaba’s Chief Executive Daniel Zhang Yong says their goal is to attract more foreigners to participate because “commerce is a borderless world”.  Based on Alibaba’s records last year, consumers from more than 200 countries took part in the online shopping extravaganza, and international transactions were up 60% from the previous year.  It goes without saying that this upward trend of buying globally and selling globally is likely to continue.

The growth won’t come without some challenges such as language barriers and compliance and trade regulations to adhere to.  However today we are seeing unprecedented levels of cross-border transactions and Singles’ Day celebrates the freedom to “treat yo’self” by simply swiping and clicking your way through the virtual shopping aisles of the world.

So as long as you have data, you don’t need a date!  Have any questions or comments?  We would love to hear from you!  Shoot as an email.

Happy Singles’ Day!

Kate CHERNAVINAAre you ready for 11.11?

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