What is Singles’ Day?

Black Friday might get a lot of hype, but it’s not the biggest online shopping day of the year.

That honour actually goes to Singles Day, which takes place in China each year on November 11 and is gaining in popularity throughout the world. Single’s Day routinely racks up more sales than Cyber Monday and Black Friday combined. Here is a look at how what started out as a marketing ploy has grown into the biggest online retail event in the world.

The Origins of Singles Day

The date for Singles Day, 11/11, is significant because it contains more 1s – the digit associated with being alone in China and elsewhere – than any other date on the calendar. It is also referred to as “Bachelors’ Day” because of the surplus of men brought about by the Chinese one-child policy. It is believed to have started out as a student tradition some time around the mid-1990s. It was initially a day in which single young men partied with their single friends, and some groups would organise get-togethers to help singles meet one another.

Singles Day Goes Commercial

Chinese retail giant Alibaba was the first to maximise the opportunity by offering special deals on Singles Day in 2009 as online shopping’s star was just starting to rise and promoting the idea of celebrating being solo by buying yourself a gift. It also presented an opportunity for the retailer to stem the lull in spending that was typically noted in the time between National Day and the Chinese New Year.

The first year was a success, with around £5m being spent on the day, but just two years later, that figure had grown to £500m on Alibaba alone. The following year, sales nearly quadrupled and Alibaba made a move to trademark the term “Double 11” in Chinese. However, other retailers have also gotten in on the act, not just in China but also in America and Europe.

The Secret of Its Success

Part of the day’s success lies in the fact that the date is meaningful and easy to remember. It has also managed to tap into the changing demographics in China by appealing to the emerging middle class and young people, who are growing in affluence and have more disposable income. It started just around the time when people were starting to feel comfortable with ecommerce, and it has made Alibaba founder Jack Ma the richest person in China.

While some of the sales offerings relate to being single, such as single travel tickets and boyfriend pillows, it has essentially turned into a shopping free-for-all, with people taking advantage of the sales and buying themselves gifts on this day regardless of their relationship status. Young and wealthy shoppers tend to splash out on luxury cars and the latest electronic gadgets, while rural consumers might take the opportunity to buy their very first microwave or TV.

The event has also grown beyond online sales. In 2016, Alibaba held an entertainment gala headlined by celebrities in the build-up to the start of the sales at midnight.

Singles Day Statistics

Proving that its reach extends outside of China, more than 14,000 different international brands got in on the act and participated in Alibaba’s Singles Day in 2016. Orders came from more than 200 different countries and regions. The top sellers among Chinese consumers that year were products by Nike, Apple and Siemens.

It is also a largely mobile event, with 71 per cent of Singles Day sales in 2015 coming from mobile devices. This was a huge increase over 2014, when just 43 per cent of sales were from mobile. That year, 120,000 orders were placed every minute of the day.

The Future of Singles Day

Singles Day is being tipped to become a global phenomenon, and some experts believe it accurately reflects the future of retailing. Businesses use it to roll out new products and test different ways of engaging with their customers, with successful approaches often forming the basis of their plans for the year ahead.

Last year, a pilot programme targeted Singles Day shoppers in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and there are plans in place to target Southeast Asia this year. Whilst some experts believe that taking it fully global could prove challenging, Jack Ma predicts that one out of every four people in the world will buy from Alibaba’s ecommerce platforms by the year 2026.