How Singles' Day Hits All The E-Commerce Marks

Singular Sensation: How Singles’ Day Hits All The E-Commerce Marks

E-commerce is growing rapidly worldwide, with global sales revenue expected to reach US$4.9 trillion by 2021, according to eMarketer. Asia currently ranks No. 1 in global market share, with sales expected to reach US$1.94 trillion this year (54.7% of global total e-commerce sales revenue). This eclipses even North America, with expected e-commerce sales of US$552.6 billion (12% of total worldwide).

It’s not surprising, then, that from within the region comes the biggest e-commerce event in the world, Alibaba’s Singles’ Day. The gargantuan event, held annually on November 11, is popular among young people who celebrate their pride in being single. It has gone from a US$8 million sale featuring 24 merchants in 2009 to become the biggest 24-hour sale in the world. In fact, last year Singles’ Day’s online revenues were higher than the sales amassed from Thanksgiving through U.S. Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined, at US$30.8 billion. Of note, 90% of these sales were purchased via mobile devices. 

This year’s event is poised to be even bigger.

“Alibaba Group is expecting to exceed last year’s results by attracting more than 500 million users, about 100 million more than we saw in 2018,” said Maggie Zhou managing director, Australia and New Zealand, at Alibaba Group, in an interview with CMO by Adobe. “Our ultimate goal is to help stimulate consumption demand and support the upgrade in lifestyles for millions of consumers across China through new brands and products. This year we will see over 200,000 brands participating and 1 million new products on offer.”   

What accounts for such success? And what can other retailers learn from its example? Four main best practices emerge.

1. Singles’ Day Is Grounded In A Well-Developed E-Commerce Strategy

Singles’ Day’s e-commerce strategy is heavily centred around promotions and discounts made available to not only Alibaba’s main e-commerce site Tmall, but to a range of its subsidiaries, such as Ele.me, social media, music streaming services, travel apps, and, more recently, globally to e-commerce platforms such as Ebay and Amazon. 

“Warm-up sales” also feature prominently, with a range of discounted sales leading up to the main 24-hour sale. For example, this year Nike has already begun a campaign (in October) offering pre-releases of its Jordan brands to the lucrative China sneaker market. The company has been staggering individual releases of the limited-edition shoes and will complete its collection on Singles Day.

“The [countdown] events effectively create a buzz and provide us and our partners with the opportunity to engage with customers who can both gain discount coupons to use throughout the promotional period and access presale events,” she said.

This year’s warm-up sales will lead to a Countdown Gala sale on November 10. The song and dance spectacular will be headlined by singer Taylor Swift and live-broadcasted from Shanghai’s Mercedes Benz Arena, airing on Chinese networks and Youku, Alibaba’s video-streaming hub. Shoppers will be entertained until midnight, at which time they will have the opportunity to purchase items from the extensive list of brands.

“Through partnerships with popular celebrities, we are ensuring that the event continues to engage new generations of consumers,” Zhou said.

2. Singles’ Day Understands The Mechanics Of Social Commerce

Key to the success of Singles’ Day is a marketing strategy where traditional online retail marketing is complemented by a mobile-first, highly interactive shopping experience in which social media plays a big role. 

“Chinese consumers are possibly the most active in the world when it comes to social e-commerce and rely heavily on product reviews from their peers,” Zhou said. “On occasions such as the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, in particular, many consumers will research and preload their cart, so the word-of-mouth effect from Chinese social platforms is an extremely powerful tool.”

Moreover, Alibaba uses its smartphone apps Taobao and Tmall to engage consumers in promotional activities, such as participating in treasure hunts and games to earn credit and promotional codes. This year Alibaba participants also will have the opportunity to play for their share of up to 2 billion digital cash vouchers, called “red packets,” that can be used online to make discounted purchases.

In addition, over 2,000 social influencers will be conducting livestreaming product showings on Alibaba platforms.

3. Singles’ Day Reaches Consumers Via Video

Speaking of livestreaming, last year Singles’ Day featured a “see now, buy now” livestream fashion show that was shared on 10 platforms, where consumers could view models wearing featured fashions and click on the video to immediately purchase showcased items. The event was highly successful. Within the first 10 minutes, Alibaba’s sales reached US$4.68 billion—more than the entire sales from Amazon’s 36-hour Prime Day event.  

When the show returned October 21 this year to kick off the Singles’ Day calendar, it was live-streamed on over 17 platforms, including Youku, Weibo, Douyin, and Bilibili and featured items from Burberry, Levi’s, and Polo Ralph Lauren. The show also included non-fashion brands. For example, Scotch whiskey maker Johnny Walker’s Game of Thrones-Themed Whiskeys were promoted with a dance performance and P&G’s feminine-hygiene brand Whisper featured singer Luo Tianyi in an augmented-reality powered performance.

“Livestreaming has become a popular means of engaging consumers in China,” Zhou said. “This year, we anticipate many brands from a wide variety of product categories, ranging from apparel and cosmetics to consumer electronics and food, will use livestreaming as an effective channel to engage consumers during the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival.”  

The importance of video in an e-commerce strategy is backed by a 2019 report by Econsultancy, Hootsuite, and Magento, titled “State of Social Commerce in Southeast Asia.” In it, 59% of consumers said their online shopping is influenced by video, pointing to YouTube as one of the most popular channels responsible for triggering their purchases. The report also cites research by Marketing Charts, which found almost three-quarters of consumers were more likely to make a purchase after watching a video.

4. Singles’ Day Demonstrates Its Values

With Singles Day 2019 gearing up to be the biggest yet, Alibaba Group is looking to give something back.

“In 2019 we will see a focus on ’new consumption,’ new business, and more actively contributing to a greener society. Given the large scale of the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, Alibaba Group wanted to make it a priority to minimise our environmental impact,” Zhou explained.

Cainiao, Alibaba’s smart logistics network, and its partners will make November 20 a day focused on the recycling of cardboard packaging.

“They will work to convert 75,000 locations into permanent recycling stations, and express courier companies will pick up used cardboard boxes and wrapping,” Zhou said.

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