Singles’ Day keeps growing—much like Chinese e-commerce as a whole—and this year, Citigroup forecasts that sales will reach $24 billion in the 24-hour period on November 11. This transaction volume would represent a 35 percent climb on Alibaba’s figure for last year, further cementing the importance of Singles’ Day as a key “holiday” to follow in the Chinese market.
However, while Alibaba may remain the king of Singles’ Day, there is a rising number of pretenders who wish to cash in on the event that Alibaba popularized. Travel is also an increasingly important part of the Singles’ Day sales mix, not least because of Alibaba’s stake in the market.
Single’s Day is also a good barometer for Chinese customer preferences and how brands are developing their strategies to meet changing demands. What to look for this year? We have some suggestions!
Travel’s increasingly important part of the Singles’ Day mix
Chinese travel is booming, and so are Chinese OTAs as more and more Chinese consumers choose to buy their travel products on online platforms. As a result, travel is an increasingly important part of Singles’ Day campaigns. For Alibaba, the success of its Fliggy travel marketplace is vital for cashing in on Chinese travel. Last year, Fliggy launched in conjunction with Singles’ Day, and this year, Alibaba is doing its utmost to make campaigns on the website an important part of the Singles’ Day promotions.
Aside from Alibaba, success in travel couldn’t be more vital to ensuring future growth. Alibaba’s main competitor in the Chinese e-commerce space, JD.com, is expanding its travel operations, and Meituan-Dianping is an increasingly popular platform for travel products as well.
The timing of Singles’ Day, in the low-season after Golden Week, also makes it an ideal time to encourage Chinese consumers to shop for travel products at a discount.
Longer duration of Singles’ Day campaigns
While the headline event of Singles’ Day is the 24 hours of November 11, we are now seeing signs that major players—not just Alibaba—are trying to make Singles’ Day into a weeks-long shopping extravaganza. This year, Alibaba’s Fliggy travel marketplace started running its Singles’ Day campaign as early as October 20. Meanwhile, Fliggy competitor Tuniu has been celebrating its own “11 event”—the 11th anniversary since its founding—also starting in October.
However, other players are less aggressive with starting early. As of November 10, Ctrip doesn’t even reference Singles’ Day on its website. Meanwhile, Ctrip-owned travel player Qunar is promoting upcoming Singles’ Day deals—but sales aren’t starting early.
The question is if more players will follow Alibaba’s lead in the coming years, or if the early start will prove a detriment to sales on Singles’ Day proper. Outside of China, Amazon UK has announced that its Black Friday shopping event will last for 10 days this year.
Shift from an all-Alibaba event to an event embraced by the broader industry
The trend has been clear: Singles’ Day is shifting from an Alibaba shopping event to a trend that a multitude of both Chinese and overseas firms are tapping into to generate a boom in retail and travel sales. However, it remains to be seen if this trend will last. With Alibaba doing its utmost to keep Singles’ Day Alibaba-centric with its marketing muscle and staggering e-commerce market share, some competitors may find it more effective to run major campaigns at other times. Ctrip’s relative lack of Singles’ Day marketing in the lead up to this year’s event is quite telling, and Tuniu’s promotion of a separate “11-event” in October also indicates that such a move may be in motion.
Of course, establishing a shopping event as influential as Singles’ Day may just be even more expensive than competing with Alibaba’s marketing on Singles’ Day.
Travel brands avoiding Chinese shopping portals
While Alibaba’s marketplaces remain king on Singles’ Day, competitors running their own Singles’ Day campaigns are also highly important. However, Singles’ Day is not only about Alibaba versus its competition, it’s also about brands running their campaigns through their own platforms. By avoiding competing with the countless number of deals available on online travel agency (OTA) websites on Singles’ Day, and instead selling discounted products directly on their websites, Wechat accounts for example, brands hope to make the most of China’s shopping festival. Arguably, by avoiding the steep competition and fees charged by China’s online giants, brands can provide even better deals through their own platforms.
It’s an interesting strategy that has been gaining traction in recent years, but the marketing message easily gets drowned out by the larger players. Even so, it’s an excellent method for rewarding frequent customers with the best possible deals. Whether it’s a solid way to reach new customers is a different question altogether.
Singles’ Day is undoubtedly a very Chinese event. It traces its origins back to a holiday popular with students in Nanjing and was later popularized by Alibaba as it found it an ideal occasion to promote treating oneself with shopping.
However, with the fast-growing importance of Chinese consumers—both at home and abroad—and the massive success of Singles’ Day, the event is now used to promote shopping to Chinese consumers far beyond China’s borders. Moreover, the enormous success of Singles’ Day has inspired big players, particularly in Asia, to start “celebrating” the event as well: promoting Singles’ Day discount shopping to local, non-Chinese consumers.
While national holiday-specific occasions such as China’s Golden Week don’t translate well to other cultural contexts, Singles’ Day is much more flexible. If the trend of increasing geographic spread persists, Singles’ Day could become a significant event not only for the China-marketer but also for the greater Asian travel and retail marketplace.
Long story short
Singles’ Day is a key barometer for keeping track on Chinese travel and shopping trends, as well as keeping pace with how international brands develop their strategies in a market dominated by big, domestic, online players. Equally, the relatively young shopping event is evolving year-by-year, making it crucial to keep track of the best strategies to benefit from the world’s biggest shopping event.