Singles Day is fast approaching, and e-retailers in China are preparing for the Nov. 11 sales holiday with advertisements, pre-sale specials, and aggressive social media marketing.
The anticipation has already reached a fever pitch: the Singles Day hashtag #Double11# has been trending on Chinese social network Weibo for more than a month, generating billions of impressions. Nearly 90% of all Chinese online shoppers plan to make purchases on the day.
This is an e-commerce sales event on a scale Western shoppers can barely comprehend. Last year, more than $2 billion of products were sold during the day’s first hour.
What's fueling the frenzy? Products are deeply discounted on Singles Day-often by 50% or more-in practically every product category, from smartphones to soy sauce. Most of this sales activity unfolds in online marketplaces such as Tmall and Taobao, owned by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.
Last year, these virtual malls alone generated $9.3 billion in Singles Day-related sales, a 60% increase over 2013. In contrast, last year’s U.S. sales during Black Friday and Cyber Monday amounted to less than half of that—around $4 billion combined.
Weeks after Nov. 11, Chinese shipping services still wheezed under the burden of delivering more than 278 million packages to customers. For context, that’s about one package for every five people in China.
Not Just for Chinese Companies
Currently, Chinese brands are the biggest winners on Singles Day. But savvy Western companies are also getting in on the action.
Last year, Alibaba opened its Tmall platform to foreign brands. Several U.S. companies—including Costco, American Eagle Outfitters and Calvin Klein—launched localized virtual stores. According to one report, athletic brands such as Adidas and Nike claimed the top two best-selling slots in Alibaba’s sports apparel category. Apple placed Top 5 in the electronic device category. And in the “mother and baby” product category, Kimberly-Clark Corp. (maker of Huggies) and Disney were also top sellers.
This year, Alibaba’s arms opened even wider. More than 15,000 brands from around the world will participate, including Macy’s, UK-based retailer House of Fraser and supermarket Sainsbury’s, and other global companies such as P&G and Unilever. These Western companies are smartly localizing their product information for Chinese shoppers.
These shoppers swarm to Alibaba-owned online marketplaces, often because Alibaba was the company that first popularized Singles Day as a shopping event in 2009. However, other Chinese virtual marketplaces (such as JD.com) and other e-commerce companies have launched their own Singles Day sales.
Western companies who’ve expanded into the Chinese online market with branded e-commerce websites also participate.
Several of these companies are MotionPoint clients. These brands see massive spikes in traffic and conversion rates on Singles Day. Website traffic skyrockets 82% higher than the yearly daily average. Conversions surge upward by 10%, compared to the yearly average conversion rate.
From 2013 to 2014, these sites saw a year-over-year traffic growth of nearly 70%. It pays to be in-market, and in-language, on Singles Day.
As institutionalized it may seem, Singles Day isn't a formal holiday. It was invented back in the 1990s by Chinese university students to celebrate their single status; a kind of anti-Valentine's Day. Singles Day-better known in China as "bare sticks holiday"-got its name based on how the date Nov. 11 appears visually: 1, 1, 1, 1.
(Interestingly, the day is often called “Double 11” by Chinese shoppers, a marketing term created by Alibaba Group and trademarked in 2012. Only Tmall and other marketplaces owned by the powerful conglomerate can use “Double 11” in advertising. This would be like “the U.S. government giving Walmart the exclusive right to use the words ‘Valentine’s Day,’” wrote one amazed columnist.)
Tips for 2016
While it may be too late for your company to engage with the Chinese market in time for this year's Singles Day, there's plenty of time to be prepared for 2016. Here are several ways you can smartly connect with Chinese shoppers before Nov. 11, on Singles Day, and beyond:
Singles Day Isn’t For Single People Anymore: These days, according to a survey by Nielsen N.V., more than 60% of Singles Day shoppers are married.
Singles Day Is For Lots of Companies: Brands from many product categories can take advantage of the sales event. According to one report, the most popular categories include “clothing and accessories, cosmetics and personal care, household products, appliances, and food and beverage.”
Localize Your Branded Site for the Chinese Market: English fluency isn’t rare in China, but most customers speak Chinese exclusively. This means your digital shopping experience should be in-language. When crafted by world-class professionals, this translated content will resonate with shoppers in ways other solutions (such as machine translation or lower-quality human vendors) simply can’t.
Localize Your Product Information: Even if your company opts to forgo a branded e-commerce site in favor of a virtual storefront at a marketplace such as Tmall, it will still need to translate its content to resonate with local shoppers.
Make Your Localized Online Experience Mobile-Friendly: Last year, mobile sales accounted for 42% of gross merchandise value in 2014, up from 21% in 2013. All indicators point to m-commerce continuing to rise in prominence.
Get Social: Integrate local social media networks (like Weibo) into your site’s promotional and marketing strategies. MotionPoint clients have seen 30+% of all referral traffic and 10+% of all revenue come from inbound social network users. Those numbers are on the rise.
Make Sure Fulfillment Is Covered: Before taking the plunge, be sure to assess your order fulfillment process. You’ll need to adjust it to accommodate Chinese customers—from shipping options, to supporting Chinese addresses on shipping labels.
Support Local Currencies & Payment Options: Credit cards and PayPal aren’t often standard payment options in China. Be certain to support locally-preferred platforms such as Alipay. Our clients who’ve integrated Alipay support have seen conversion rates soar by 217%, and revenue increase by 210%.