Money Makes the World Go Round on Singles Day

Nov. 11 is Singles Day in China — aka the “11.11 Shopping Festival” — and the country’s millions of unhitched celebrated the event by spending some quality time with online retail giant Alibaba.

So far, the event has generated US$9.3 billion in sales and 278 million orders shipped, the retailer reported. Slightly less than half, or 43 percent of those orders, were placed from mobile devices.

Alibaba has topped its sales from last year on the same day, when it recorded $5.75 billion in transactions and shipped 150 million packages.

The Origins of Singles Day

There is no religious or state significance behind Singles Day. It first surfaced in the 1990s when students at some universities began celebrating it.

Like Cyber Monday, Black Friday and more recently Grey Thursday, the day has become a significant one for retailers, which enthusiastically market discounted products to eligible shoppers.

In fact, Singles Day is the largest online shopping day in the world, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Alibaba.

The e-commerce giant hopes to spread the party to the U.S., where some 124.6 million Americans are single, according to recent statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — slightly more than half, or 50.2 percent, of people 16 years or older.

The Chinese Super Consumer

Alibaba cannot take all the credit for the day’s popularity, although it is credited with holding the first retail Singles Day campaign, said Michael Zakkour, author of China’s Super Consumers and China practice leader for Tompkins International.

China’s consumers have become the fastest-growing and most important group of shoppers in the world, he told the E-Commerce Times.

“Singles Day, or 11-11, is the most visible manifestation of the importance of Chinese consumers to the Chinese and global economies,” said Zakkour.

A Global Holiday?

“It wouldn’t surprise me to see Singles Day become part of the Western holiday shopping calendar in the future,” Zakkour remarked.

However, efforts to spread Singles Day around the world so far have met with limited success, said David Cadden, professor emeritus in the School of Business at Quinnipiac University.

“Alibaba has cleverly exploited its popularity as a way of driving e-commerce,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

However, an effort to promote it in England was not a success, Cadden pointed out, as Singles Day ran up against Valentine’s Day — and Valentine’s Day won.

“Unless — and that is a very big unless — Singles Day becomes better known and popular in the rest of the world, it is unlikely to change e-commerce purchasing patterns,” he concluded. “That being said, I’m sure that there are additional growth opportunities in China and Asia to ensure that it remains the standard for one-day sales.”

Singles Day and Alibaba’s TMall in general provide tremendous opportunities for Western brands to tap into the rising purchasing power of Chinese consumers, said John Tomich, CEO and cofounder of Onestop Internet.

“Yet, the vast majority of these brands still have no official e-commerce presence on TMall,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

That could change in the future, according to Tompkins’ Zakkour. “More and more of my consumer product and luxury goods clients are integrating 11-11 into their marketing and merchandising calendar in China.”

Erika Morphy has been writing about technology, finance and business issues for more than 20 years. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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