It is that time of the year again. China’s – and the world’s – biggest online shopping event is about to take place on 11 November.
Known as Singles’ Day, Alibaba and its founder, Jack Ma, transformed the de facto holiday from an ‘anti-Valentine’s Day’ for Chinese singletons to a global shopping festival back in 2009 – and made billions of dollars in the process.
How did it start?
Singles’ Day, also known as ‘bare sticks holiday,’ started in 1993 at Nanjing University as a day for students to celebrate their singledom. The date 11 November was chosen as it resembles 4 solitary bare sticks.
The annual event kicks off on the midnight of 11 November and runs for 24 hours featuring steep discounts that are driven by the main Alibaba-owned platform, Tmall.
Essentially, think of it as the Asian version of America’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping sales – but bigger than the two combined.
This year, Alibaba says over 15 million products from more than 140,000 brands, including 60,000 international brands, will be offering discounts on Tmall – up from 100,000 in 2016.
Besides the e-commerce giant, other platforms like JD.com have become a key competitor and will be pushing equally hard to attract shoppers.
How much is spent?
In terms of sales, Singles’ Day is known for racking up record numbers – more so than Black Friday, Cyber Monday or Amazon Prime Day sales. In 2016, Alibaba made a staggering $17.8 billion ($5 billion in the first hour alone) and intends to break that record this year.
How is the high demand met?
Shoppers purchase everything – home appliances, electronics and even cars – on the day. To manage the high volume of deliveries, Alibaba opened its first automated, robot-managed warehouse. JD.com is not resting on its laurels either. It has teamed up with Walmart to simplify shopping processes and speed up deliveries.
2017 : Increased focus on luxury
This year, through strategic partnerships with international fashion luxury brands like Jason Wu, Opening Ceremony and Robert Geller, Alibaba is focusing heavily on the luxury sector. Similarly, JD.com is appealing to high-end consumers by launching a new luxury e-commerce site, TOPLIFE, which will go live on Singles’ Day.
The ‘New Retail’ strategy
This year also marks the one-year anniversary of Alibaba’s ‘New Retail’ strategy launch. The term coined by Ma aims to depict the increasingly blurry lines between offline and online shopping. As such, Alibaba is partnering with 52 shopping malls to set up 60 pop-up stores across 12 cities in China.
100,000 stores will also become ‘smart stores’ with tech features ranging from facial recognition-powered payment solutions, scan-and-deliver O2O shopping feature and AR beauty tutorials to create a much more immersive experience.
Entertainment will be big
To kickstart the event, Tmall will host a four-hour star-studded countdown gala on the night before, where Pharrell Williams is expected to perform alongside other Chinese celebrities. Last year, the glitzy show attracted over 400 million viewers – three times the number of those who watched this year’s Super Bowl.
Jack Ma to unveil debut movie
Starring alongside action superstars Jet Li and Donnie Yen, Ma will be unveiling his martial arts film, Gong Shou Dao (The Art of Attack and Defence), on video platform Youku on Singles’ Day. To promote the film, Ma also released a theme song entitled Feng Qing Yang that he recorded with Chinese singer Faye Wong.
“We want to make this a global holiday, a global festival for every consumer… We want [to] help global small business…” Ma told CNN in 2016. To demonstrate it, this year Tmall will bring 100 Chinese brands overseas offering special promotions to target millions of consumers around the world.
If you’re in China…
Timing is everything, so be sure to prepare your shopping list early instead of browsing the entire site once the sale starts. While you’re checking out, also look out for additional promo vouchers that you can use to gain further discounts. Payment can be made with Alipay, UnionPay or major credit cards.
If you’re abroad…
Since most of the sites are in Chinese, prep yourself with a translation tool like Google Translate to help you navigate. Before checking out, ensure the products can be shipped to your destination. Lastly, do a quick research to find out which credit cards offer the lowest rates for inter-bank transactions and exchange rates.