Singles Day: Time to 'Treat Yo Self'

Last Friday marked 11.11, known in China as ‘Double 11’ or ‘Singles Day’. Originally created as an ‘anti-Valentine’s Day’, the holiday was adopted by Alibaba in 2009 in order to boost sales during a traditional lull in retail sales before the Chinese New Year season. Singles Day is now a day for single people (and everyone else) to buy themselves something nice. And this year, buy they did.

In 2015, shoppers clocked up $14.3 billion dollars in sales in 24 hours to mark a 55% increase on the previous year. In 2016, total sales grew to $17.8 billion, a 32% increase on 2015. Of these, 82% of purchases were made on a mobile device. These figures dwarfed the 2015 Black Friday sales in the United States which totaled just $10.4 billion.

Singles Day is an intriguing cultural development in a nation not known for celebrating the individual and consumerism. Retailers have gone to extreme lengths to draw customers, bringing in stars from all over the world including basketballer Kobe Bryant, David and Victoria Beckham and ‘Blonde Bond’ Daniel Craig for a four-hour live-streamed gala. An estimated 40,000 retailers participated in this year’s event, offering interactive online stores, augmented reality and virtual reality shopping in addition to the steep discounts shoppers have come to expect.

The staggering figures from today’s Singles Day tell us the event is here to stay. It is also spreading beyond China, with 11.11 discounts noticeable here in the US as local retailers look to cash in on the trend. Participation by international companies such as Starbucks, Uniqlo and Gap suggest that foreign brands view the day as an opportunity to attract and acquire a new set of customers.

This ‘holiday’, driven by pure consumption, reveals much about the Chinese consumer in 2016. She is technologically savvy, sophisticated, price conscious, brand aware and ready to spend on herself. She is also demanding, seeking to be entertained as a part of the shopping experience. This year's extravaganza clearly demonstrates that retailers must offer both deals and delight if they are to compete for the 'Singles Day' customer.