The Chinese Opportunity: Everything you need to know about Singles Day and the growing Chinese market

November 9, 2017

Brands Gautam Srivastava By Gautam Srivastava

China represents one of the biggest e-commerce opportunities in the world. And its single biggest shopping day, November 11, isn’t just the biggest shopping day in China. Every year, November 11 — also known as Singles Day — becomes the biggest online shopping day in the entire world. Want to know more? Thought you might.

Here’s what you need to know to take advantage of this annual online event.

Why China?

China is the world’s biggest e-commerce market, estimated to be worth around $1.1 trillion – taking an incredible half of all global online sales. Singles Day is a chief factor driving this huge market share. Last year, sales on the day reached $17.8 billion (up from $14.3 billion on the previous year).

To put this into perspective — Singles Day sales eclipsed the combined $6.17 billion spent on Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2016.

So, what actually is Singles Day?

Singles Day started in the ’90s as a tongue in cheek anti-Valentine’s celebration where the country’s many Chinese singletons exchanged small gifts. Alibaba saw its e-commerce potential –  and re-positioned the event as a discount flash sale day. The rest is history.

With Hong Kong and Taiwan participating this year – along with a growing awareness among China’s rural growing middle classes – Singles Day 2017 sales are expected to top the $20 billion mark.

Many UK brands are already involved

Around 140,000 brands will participate this year — up 100,000 from last year, including some 60,000 non-Chinese brands.

And luckily for us, the demand for British goods and British brands are on the rise.

The lower value of the pound means Chinese shoppers are increasingly interested in goods from UK retailers — especially for luxury items which have a higher ticket value in China. Apparel, accessories, toys, travel and home improvement were big sellers last year.

A growing number of UK brands and retailers have already seen impressive Singles Day sales on marketplace Tmall. Top Shop, for example, saw sales surge by 900% year on year.

Other British brands taking up residence on Alibaba’s Tmall site include Sainsbury’s, Holland & Barratt and Burberry, along with M&S, ASOS and Waitrose. All reported a significant surge in brand awareness in the Chinese market last year.

This year’s newcomers to Tmall in time for Singles Day include Apple, Guerlain, Maserati and Target, as well as Zara, Costco and Starbucks.

E-commerce meets entertainment

Singles Day isn’t just an online shopping day in China – it’s an event. In the lead-up to the deals going live, there’s a hosted Super-Bowl-style event with celebrities and sports stars in attendance.

Last year’s Singles Day “countdown” extravaganza was watched by more than 400 million people.

This year’s run-up to the event promises to be even glitzier. A series of headline-grabbing promotions are planned for the hours before the official commencement of Singles Day at midnight on November 11.  Helping to generate consumer frenzy in time for the event are celebrities including global music impresario and hat enthusiast Pharrell as well as pianist Liang Liang – plus any number of surprise guests.

In a bid to blur the lines between online and offline retailing, Alibaba is enabling people watching at home and interact in real time. There will be “watch-now, buy now” opportunities while consumers are also invited to direct the action on stage — and collect prizes to win digital “red envelopes” (cash).

Singles Day and beyond: Your guide to engaging with the Chinese consumer

  • Chinese people tend to see shopping as more of a fun experience than a chore, so brands need to pay more attention to the customer experience to engage with them. Chinese shoppers respond well to a hybrid infomercial format featuring internet celebrities or narrative storylines. And brands are taking note — especially leading cosmetic brands — of whom 70% do live-streaming to attract Chinese consumers.
  • Strong deals are what push people to buy on Singles Day – especially where shipping costs from the UK could be high. It’s recommended to offer the best discounts possible, offers that are at least on a par with Black Friday offers.
  • Discount rates should be chosen with care: Avoid the number four since this signifies death (so 44% off is a no-no), while the number 8 signifies good fortune (so this may be one to factor in). Colours including gold and red have positive connotations and are often used in promotions to the APAC market. Buy-one-get-one-free promotions, as well as gifts included with purchase, are often well received.
  • While low prices are the obvious draw for shoppers 81% of Chinese consumers say value is more important than price
  • If you’re taking part this year, ensure offers run for the whole of 11.11 taking into account the different time zones.
  • Singles Day is no longer all about singletons. However, demographics dictate that people in China will increasingly remain unmarried. In cities 21% of people older than 35 are single. This trend indicates that there could be a demand for certain types of products e.g. furniture for a one-person apartment, smaller appliances, one-person meals etc.

The Chinese market – and Singles Day in particular — presents UK brands and retailers with an opportunity to tap into a market of half a billion affluent consumers.

If the idea of selling to Chinese shoppers appeals to you, we can help you get started and ensure you don’t miss out on this massive opportunity in 2018. Contact the UK ChannelAdvisor team with any questions you have, or reach out to book a solution demo today.

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Happy selling!