Is China’s Singles’ Day the future of global ecommerce?

Singles’ Day, the world’s biggest online shopping day, is coming closer. This anti-Valentine’s Day celebration held in China is a time when everyone, regardless of their relationship status, buys themselves gifts.

As usual, this year we can expect more eye-popping sales figures and more digital innovations. To many, Singles’ Day equals the future of ecommerce.

Can Singles’ Day turn the whole of global ecommerce upside down?

In this article you’ll learn about Singles’ Day in China, its sales potential and how it can impact ecommerce sales in the West.

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The biggest online shopping day on the planet

You must have heard about Amazon Prime Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. These events, promoted by online retailers for bargains and discounts, spark real online shopping frenzy. They’re pretty big sales and revenue generators.

Both Cyber Monday and Black Friday’s sales results even combined (!), are nothing compared to what can be achieved on November 11 in China!

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The world’s biggest online shopping day of the year doesn’t take place on Cyber Monday or Black Friday. It doesn’t take place on Amazon, eBay or any other Western marketplace.

It’s actually held by Alibaba: a Chinese ecommerce company or rather a global ecommerce giant. Alibaba’s event is called Singles’ Day, a.k.a. Global Shopping Festival.

Singles’ Day in 2020

Alibaba’s Singles’ Day, a genuine retail innovation, combines ecommerce, entertainment and celebrates shopping and consumerism. This combination inspired the coining of new words: “retail-tainment” and “retail-tainment-in-chief” (Jack Ma, Alibaba’s charismatic founder).

Singles’ Day sets the pace for marketing and advertising and dominates the entire logistics chain. There are also celebrities, adding glamor to the event.

On top of this, it’s a national conversation in which you have something to say. It’s a huge opportunity for brand building. Brands can launch products specifically for this event. They can also organize live-streamed contests and reality TV shows.

In 2020 Singles Day came as the Chinese economy continued to show signs of recovery after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. It was the 12th edition of the annual Singles Day shopping event. Katy Perry headlined the event virtually.

Here are some 2020 Singles’ Day stats & facts:

  • The 2020 Singles Day event, normally happening on November 11, was extended beyond just a 24-hour period. Promotions ran from November 1 to midnight on November 12.
  • Alibaba and, Chinese ecommerce giants, racked up around $115 billion in sales across their platforms, both setting new records.
  • Alibaba’s total gross merchandise value (GMV) over the 11-day period, a figure that shows the total value of orders across Alibaba’s shopping platforms, totaled 498.2 billion yuan ($74.1 billion).
  •’s transaction volume over the same period totaled 271.5 billion yuan ($40.97 billion).
  • 250,000 brands (of which 31,000 were from overseas), 5 million online retailers and 800 million consumers participating.
  • 16 million products on offer.
  • Foreign brands were a big focus. One of the reasons for that were travel restrictions.
  • Luxury firms including Prada, Cartier, Montblanc, Piaget and Chloé took part for the first time, joining around 200 luxury brands.
  • The USA was the top country selling to China by GMV. According to Michael Evans, president of Alibaba, $5 billion of Alibaba’s total $74.1 billion GMV, came from US brands.
  • Canada, the UK, Italy, France, Germany and New Zealand were also among the “top-selling” countries to China.

Here are some 2019 Singles’ Day stats & facts (for comparison):

  • At the end of the event, GMV stood at 268.4 billion yuan (around $ 38.4 billion), just under a 26% rise from the figure posted last year. GMV hit $12.01 billion in the first hour.
  • Interestingly, Alibaba’s Co-founder Jack Ma declared the 2019 Singles Day a financial disappointment, which implies putting high pressure on profit maximization.
  • Over 200,000 brands participated, including over 22,000 brands from 78 countries. One million new products were launched
  • Electronics, fashion and cosmetics & beauty items were best-sellers. Some of the top-selling products included the 5G version of Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro smartphone and Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro. The top-selling brands were Apple and Nike.
  • The top five countries selling to Chinese consumers via cross-border platforms were Japan, the United States, Korea, Australia, and Germany.
  • To prepare for Singles Day 2019, Alibaba refined AI algorithms that predicted customer orders.

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5 fun facts about Singles’ Day, not only for ecommerce sellers

Singles’ Day takes place in China every year on November 11 (11/11). Promotional activities and announcements take more like a month, though. The event helps to boost sales during the normally low season for shopping before the Lunar New Year period.

Singles’ Day was founded by college students in the 90’s. In 2009, Alibaba spotted a commercial opportunity in 11/11 and started launching “Double 11 deals”. The rest, as they say, is history.

The biggest online shopping day on the planet was born.

Fact #1

Have you noticed that November 11 is written 11/11, or one-one-one-one? Well, we can’t think of a lonelier number than (the) one.

Fact #2

Singles’ Day is also known as Bachelors’ Day due to China’s gender imbalance. A male surplus is the result of the country’s one-child policy as well as the economic and cultural pressures for that child to be a son.

In short, there are a lot of guys in China and it’s predicted that by 2030 one in four of all Chinese men in their late 30s will never have married.

Fact #3

In 2011, the event was called the Singles’ Day of the Century as it was 11/11/11.

Fact #4

In 2016, David and Victoria Beckham made a superstar appearance at the launch of the Global Shopping Festival Countdown Gala in Shenzhen.

Fact #5

Singles’ Day has also become an opportunity to say goodbye to singledom. Many young people celebrate 11/11 by attending karaoke dating parties or going on blind dates. Some also try to win their special someone’s love by buying the perfect gift.

Some may even decide to propose. Interestingly enough, there are more weddings held on 11/11 than most other days of the year.

Singles’ Day in China is an international sales opportunity

Singles’ Day is becoming a channel for global interaction. It connects consumers and brands, but also China and the rest of the world.

Around 30% of purchases were from overseas merchants or brands. Foreign brands are becoming more and more popular among Chinese consumers. The Singles’ Day international opportunity is there.

The multibillion shopping status of this event is a tempting option for many overseas retailers. A number of British brands, e.g. Marks & Spencer, Whittard of Chelsea, Waitrose or ASOS, have marketplaces on Alibaba’s Tmall site.

There’s even more.

Sainsbury’s, the British supermarket chain, has used a virtual reality promotion tool on Tmall. In fact, Sainsbury’s hit the high spot on Tmall when it comes to orders during a 90-minute 360-degree live broadcast of its supermarkets in London.

It was the second most popular promotion since Sainsbury’s live broadcasted an afternoon tea party on the Queen’s birthday.

Alibaba seems to be doing a pretty good job of extending Singles’ Day sales beyond China and attracting international players.

China, Alibaba & Singles’ Day: the ecommerce future is NOW

We know technology in the West, but it looks there’s a lot we’ve yet to see. Singles’ Day and Chinese ecommerce may be the future of digital innovation.

Alibaba likes to feature augmented reality games or offer virtual reality shopping experiences. For instance, it allows buyers to connect their phones with a VR headset and make purchases as if they were in an actual store in NYC.

Video is a powerful marketing tool in China as today live-streaming is a big internet trend there. Product communications very often have a hybrid infomercial format with internet celebrities or narrative storylines. You can also expect mobile apps that show shoppers digitally how they look in clothes and cosmetics.

Eventually it may all make us wonder whether such mobile innovations will lead to the demise of desktop ecommerce shopping.

Either way, both the domestic and international sales potential in China is enormous. All the same, sellers must adapt their communications strategies to the local market and consumer preferences and habits.

According to Deborah Weinswig of Fung Global Retail and Technology:

There is a difference between shopping in the West and in China. In the West it’s more of a chore, in China: a sport.

China’s Singles’ Day: conclusion

Here in the West, when we think online mega-sales, it’s usually Black Friday or Cyber Monday that pop into our heads. But the real giant is Alibaba and its Singles’ Day held in China.

China’s growing importance as a consumer market is no mystery. Not only in terms of the market’s size and its super-fast growth, but also due to retailing innovations in O2O, digital marketing and cross-border ecommerce.

Singles’ Day is a global shopping event. Yet, it’s not only about sales. It’s a national and global celebration that turns the retail world upside down. It’s full of both domestic and international sales opportunities.

It’s fair to say that Singles’ Day may be the actual future of retailing. The Chinese embrace technology, love ecommerce and love spending. Fully embracing virtual and augmented reality, China is already at least one digital step ahead.


Made in China: Get ready for a REAL ecommerce revolution.


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