An anti-holiday that started out as a way for young, single college students in China to have fun with friends has transformed into the biggest online shopping day in the world. Over the last decade Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has successfully made Singles Day, held every year on November 11, an online shopping extravaganza. In 2017, Alibaba’s online marketplace, Tmall, broke all previous sales records, reporting $25.3 billion in sales. Brands and retailers from all over the world are now eager to join Tmall, as well as competing Chinese marketplaces like JD.com, to cash in on the unprecedented opportunity of Singles Day.
But Singles Day is about more than offering sweet deals on the items Chinese singles want. It’s a chance for cross border retailers to showcase their wares to the world’s largest e-commerce market and build loyalty with Chinese consumers, who are hungry for access to global brands long after Singles Day is over. Providing a seamless shopping, checkout and delivery experience is paramount for international businesses selling to Chinese consumers.
Here are eight things brands and retailers need to know about Singles Day to prepare their Chinese e-commerce sites for the frenzy that is November 11th.
- It’s a full 24-hour festival. Singles Day has now become a cultural phenomenon, lasting a full 24 hours and marked with special live events, such as fashion shows and concerts. Last year’s concert celebrating the kickoff of Singles Day by Alibaba featured Jack Ma hobnobbing with Western celebrities such as Nicole Kidman and Pharrell Williams. To compete with this level of excitement, brands and retailers need to engage with Chinese consumers early and often to communicate their special offerings. They’ll also need to be prepared to support their online marketplaces for the full 24 hours.
- Consumers start scoping out deals early. Much like Black Friday in the U.S., Chinese consumers begin their customer journey before November 11 by researching online for the best deals. Many brands try to engage with shoppers early by offering special coupons, vouchers and promo codes months in advance.
- It’s growing beyond China. According to Econsultancy, countries throughout Southeast Asia are already taking advantage of deep discounts that Singles Day provides. Brands and retailers may want to consider building out localized offerings in different languages that are spoken in this region. Additionally, retailers targeting Chinese Americans are testing the market for Singles Day in North America. Chinese Americans in major U.S. cities like San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago and New York are getting in on the act.
- Singles are big spenders. With no spouses, significant others or children to buy for, single consumers in China use Singles Day to purchase items for themselves that they’ve been eyeing. According to research from Bain & Company, younger households in higher tier Chinese cities with incomes of more than RMB 7,000 per month represent the largest block of e-commerce shoppers in the country. This demographic conducts the majority of e-commerce on smartphones, so mobile site optimization is key.
- Alternative payment options are a must. Offering customers the option to pay using the methods they prefer most will help international businesses reduce friction at checkout. In China, alternative payment options include Alipay, WeChat, TenCent, and UnionPay. (See more about alternative payments in our infographic of the top 12 global markets.)
- Cross border retailers are stars of the show. While domestic brands may have the advantage when it comes to pricing and fast shipping, Chinese consumers believe goods from other countries are superior in quality to domestic goods. They view Singles Day as an opportunity to grab these coveted items at discounted prices. WorldPay reported that U.K. e-commerce shops alone saw a 19 percent surge in demand from Chinese shoppers on Singles Day 2017 compared to 2016 sales. Other global brands that saw big upticks on Singles Day 2017 include Nike, Burberry, Disney and Apple.
- It’s fair game for virtually any product category. While clothing is the number one product category, Chinese shoppers are eager to take advantage of online deals on just about anything, from the usual clothing and electronics to home appliances and even automobiles. For Singles Day 2017, there are even reports of a consumer purchasing a yacht online.
- Scaling is crucial. Selling billions of dollars worth of goods in one day is an amazing achievement – but fulfilling those orders and getting them into customers’ hands as promised is quite another. At one point during last year’s Singles Day, an estimated 325,00 orders per second were being processed. Retailers who haven’t properly scaled their e-commerce sites can experience crashes and checkout nightmares. Shipping to some of the more remote areas of China —already a notoriously slow and difficult endeavor— becomes more complex with large volumes of goods. Chinese consumers have grumbled about the slow delivery times around Singles Day. To address this, last mile carriers such as ZTO are staffing up to deliver over a billion packages.
Establishing an e-commerce presence in China will require more from brands and retailers than opening a Tmall store in time for November 11. International businesses will need a dedicated retail strategy, competitive pricing, and a localized experience that gives shoppers multiple options for checkout, payment and delivery. They’ll also need a targeted marketing strategy and budget focused on early engagement as well as post-sale support.
To learn more about how to expand your e-commerce store into China, contact Flow to set up a demo of our flexible console.