Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of America's highest volume shopping days. Can you imagine a holiday that surpasses the online sales of both of them put together? Welcome to Singles’ Day, a Chinese shopping holiday of sorts that has grown at an astronomical rate.
Some Chinese college students started Singles’ Day in the 1990s as a joke. They gathered on November 11 (significant as 11/11, or all ones) to celebrate their single status — somewhat of an opposite to Valentine's Day. The Chairman of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE: BABA), Jack Ma, recognized Singles’ Day as a marketing opportunity, and began offering special deals on that date in 2009. Since then, Singles’ Day has mushroomed into a massive commercial event.
An incredible $14.3 billion in goods were purchased on Singles’ Day 2015 through Alibaba alone. That is a $5 billion increase over the previous year's sales, and over four times the online sales of Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. According to the Washington Post, sales hit the $1 billion mark within the first eight minutes after the midnight starting time, showing just how much of a communal event Singles’ Day has become.
Singles’ Day also has the advantage of being an online entity. There is no need to camp out in front of a big box store to see if you can outrun a few hundred other shoppers — simply camp out in front of your computer or mobile device.
This model fits China well as it moves more toward a middle-class consumer-driven economy. China has one of the world's highest rates of smartphone ownership at 62%. Chinese consumers are comfortable with technology and have no concerns about placing online orders through mobile apps, thus reducing the need for brick-and-mortar facilities. (It is also difficult and not cost-effective for Chinese stores to replicate the American landscape of endless strip malls.) Mobile apps allow market penetration in smaller cities where retail-shopping opportunities are scarce, but cell phone coverage is significant.
Ma also recognizes the possibilities beyond China, and other retailers do as well. The event is becoming more international in scope. Major companies and well-known American retailers, including Nike (NYSE: NKE), Macy’s (NYSE: M), Disney (NYSE: DIS), LG Electronics (KRX: 066570), Costco (NASDAQ: COST), and Fisher-Price, are taking part in the event. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has also been a recent participant. It is a mutually beneficial effort, as foreign companies gain exposure to China's booming consumer market and Chinese sites and retailers hope to boost sales abroad.
To that end, Ma created quite a media splash on Singles’ Day by hosting a four-hour variety show with an international guest lineup, including the current James Bond (British actor Daniel Craig), American Idol star Adam Lambert, and a special video featuring Kevin Spacey as his House of Cards character, Frank Underwood (who for some reason is enormously popular in China). Ma is reportedly planning to bring Singles’ Day to the U.S. and the United Kingdom, although exactly how it would be marketed is not clear.
What about the poor single people whose one special day has been usurped by blatant commerce? We cannot speak for China, but in the U.S. one group is trying to re-establish a true Singles’ Day on January 11 (1/11). The January choice is obvious as the only other date with all ones except for New Year's Day — and that would be a poor choice indeed — but it is also intended to kick off the year "with something fun and upbeat for everyone." You can find out more information about this Singles Day effort here.
Should you participate in the November 11th Chinese event or the January 11th U.S. event? Why not do both? Take the time to shop on November 11th and celebrate your status on January 11th, whatever it may be. Life is short — indulge yourself occasionally.
Photo ©iStock.com/Catherine Lane