Staggering Singles’ Day facts every retailer should know

There’s no denying it: Singles’ Day is on the rise. Every year brings more companies, more countries, and billions more into its fold. What started as an “Anti-Valentine’s Day” and a celebration of singledom has transformed into the biggest ecommerce shopping day of the year. Here’s what you need to know about the day known as Double Eleven: its origins, its present-day stats, and its potential future.

Published:
Updated: 22 Mar 2021
red tulip in grass

Singles’ Day Origins

Singles’ Day was created in 1993 by students from Nanjing University as a celebration of being single. The day falls every year on November 11, known as “bare sticks holiday” because of how it looks numerically (11/11), consisting of four lonely ones. Started as an “Anti-Valentine’s Day”, the celebrations quickly spread outside the university. Assisted by the rise in social media, the day became increasingly popular in the modern Chinese culture.

 

Alibaba Sets the Record on Singles' Day

The day was adopted by the world’s largest retailer and ecommerce company Alibaba in 2009. The company saw it as a chance to boost sales between China’s Golden Week national holiday (the first week of October) and Christmas. Singles’ Day, now officially called the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, has grown rapidly in the last decade.

In 2009, Alibaba’s first sales event included 27 brands, generating a gross merchandise volume (GMV) of USD $7.8 million or 50 million yuan.

By contrast in 2019, the GMV hit an all-time high of USD $38.4 billion. That’s 26% higher than the previous year and more than 2.5 times the amount U.S. Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales earned. Singles’ Day 2019 also saw the launch of one million new products and had more than 200,000 brands participating, including 22,000 brands from 78 countries. According to Alibaba, that’s a total of 300% more foreign brands participating year-on-year. 

By contrast in 2020, the GMV hit an all-time high of USD $74.1 billion. That’s up an astonishing 85.6% year over year with the jump likely owing to Singles’ Day being held over four days in 2020 for the first time. Additionally, Singles’ Day 2020 had more than 250,000 brands participating, including 31,000 foreign companies. During peak activity, brands were even handling 583,000 orders per second.

For Alibaba and the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, the sky’s the limit.

Singles’ Day in the Present Day

Double Eleven currently dwarfs similar shopping days in other parts of the world. Here are the impressive stats:

  • In 2020, around 800 million shoppers worldwide participated in 11.11.
  • This year, livestreaming commerce proved itself on the big stage. Alibaba’s Taobao Live had 28 livestreaming channels, with real-time translation in four languages. As a result, Taobao Live saw pre-sales exceed last year’s entire first day of pre-sales in just the first 10 minutes.
  • Alibaba’s Cainiao Network processed more than 32 billion delivery orders over the sales period.
  • For brands on the rise, Double Eleven can make up as much as 25% of yearly sales.
  • The “bare sticks holiday” is becoming increasingly popular in many regions across Southeast Asia, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, and mainland China.
  • What do people buy during the 11/11 shopping event? Top-selling categories include electronics, cosmetics, beauty items, and fashion. 

The Southeast Asian and Chinese markets have been ripe for this shopping celebration for several reasons. The population is growing, the middle class is emerging with an increasing expendable income, and affordable smart phones are accessible throughout the region.

Mobile, in particular, has been a driving force behind sales during the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival.

  • In 2019, 90% of Singles’ Day sales came from smartphones.
  • A recent report found only 50% of Southeast Asian consumers are active mobile Internet users.
  • However, the region’s Internet economy is expected to surpass USD $50 billion by 2025, exceeding earlier estimates of growth.
  • In China, the home of Singles’ Day, 802 million individuals (57.7% of the population) are active Internet users. 788 million of Internet users access it through mobile. That’s 98% of the country’s total user base.

Mobile commerce is a key player during Singles’ Day sales, an astonishing find seeing as mcommerce penetration of the region has yet to hit its full potential. And with 2020 reshaping the retail landscape, we can expect to see new mobile trends, commerce, advertising, and video dominate the digital economy in the years to come.

 

Singles’ Day Outside Asia: The Biggest Players

Is there potential for Singles’ Day shopping celebrations to be incorporated into Holiday Season sales outside Southeast Asia and mainland China? Many signs point to yes. More and more European ecommerce companies are merging Singles’ Day into their end of the year sales, both in China and in their home markets. 

  • The top five foreign countries selling to Chinese consumers through cross-border platforms were Japan, the United States, South Korea, Australia, and Germany.
  • In 2020, U.S. businesses made over five billion in sales, the most of any country outside of China.
  • Singles’ Day awareness is on the rise in many European countries:
  • The German-based Media Markt, one of Europe’s largest consumer electronics retailers now promotes Singles’ Day at their stores. They ensure their discounts are “nicht nur für Singles” (not just for Singles)
  • The biggest Dutch ecommerce site, bol.com, began participating in Singles’ Day in 2017, which proved to be the year’s busiest Saturday. In 2020, the business expanded their Singles’ Day sales into a three-day event.
  • In Switzerland, many of the biggest online retailers have incorporated the day into their holiday sales.

One obstacle to Singles’ Day expanding in certain markets is that November 11th is already Armistice Day, a day to remember those who died in military service. However, as mentioned by KPMG Head of Retail David McCorquodale, “The date will stall its entry to the UK, but not forever.”

The potential revenue and brand awareness to be gained from the multibillion event is encouraging some British retailers to take part. In 2015 for instance, Topshop saw sales increase by 900% during Singles’ Day.

 

More Traffic, More Website Traffic Issues

As Singles’ Day continues to shatter revenue records and draw more shoppers in every year, so too come website traffic related slowdowns and crashes. In 2018 for example, the ecommerce website Momo also saw traffic reach a new high and had over 700 million transactions. At one point, the website crashed for 20 minutes because of traffic overload.

On the year’s biggest ecommerce shopping day, even a minute of website downtime can result in staggering losses in revenue. Moreover, even minimal slowdown or downtime can have a lasting effect on brand reputation.

With billions on the line, are you doing whatever it takes to safeguard your website?

 

(This blog has been updated since it was originally written in 2019.)

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