Will Singles Day take over the West?

Singles Day, a Chinese festival of shopping that celebrates people who are not in a romantic relationship, occurs annually on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year - after all, as Harry Nilsson famously sang “One is the loneliest number.” Launched into the e-commerce space by Chinese behemoth Alibaba in 2009, the day has grown so large in China that it generates more revenue than Black Friday and Amazon Prime Day combined. Inevitably, the festival’s success in China is starting to pique the interest of Western retailers who are questioning the scale and nature of the opportunity Singles Day presents.

To an extent, the day has already arrived in the UK. In Google’s annual UK ‘Holiday Insights’ report, the search giant reported a 5% increase in searches for new shoes throughout November 2021, alongside 10x the usual interest in discounts by consumers who were online shopping. However, despite the growth in popularity of Singles Day in the UK in recent years, it is currently dwarfed by the ubiquity enjoyed by the festival within China’s e-commerce market. So, what are the lessons Western retailers can learn from the Chinese, and what are the parallels that should give them hope?

Aside from the obvious caveat that the day originated in China, Chinese retailers employ highly successful Social Commerce trends to drive sales throughout the holiday which Western retailers are still catching up to. The most notable example of this is ‘live shopping’, an immersive and interactive shopping experience that often employs influencers and content creators to promote and sell products while live-streaming on digital platforms. The practice is so popular in China it now makes up around 10% of China’s entire e-commerce market, and is an essential feature of the customer experience provided by Singles Day.

Online platforms such as Shopify are now starting to tap into this new trend in the UK market, partnering with TikTok in 2021 to create an integration that facilitates live sales within the TikTok app. The data has been incredibly positive with merchants showing a 66% increase in revenue following their usage of a TikTok pixel post-2019 when previously they did not have one installed. The challenge for, and future success of Singles Day, will largely depend on the extent to which Western retailers are able to harness this phenomenon in an imaginative and engaging way as Chinese retailers have managed.

In this, both increased usage of social media and more general societal trends should give British & American retailers cause for optimism. Social media usage is increasing by around 16% year-on-year, meanwhile, single-person households and the number of people who describe themselves as not being in a romantic relationship is rising exponentially in the UK, US, and China. The most recent figures suggest that around 38% of people in the UK and 31% of people in the US are ‘single’ (and rising), while a staggering 55% of men and 39% of women are ‘single’ in China (in part due to the gender imbalance led by the one-child policy). These demographics clearly reveal that there is a reservoir of potential customers for Singles Day and that it’s growing.

When viewed within this paradigm it is easy to see the festival as a reaction by e-commerce innovators to the increased individualism of global consumer culture, and of societies more generally. The genius of Singles Day is that it represents a potent infusion of these more general societal trends towards individualism and a desire for collectivism that is inherent in the concept itself. Accordingly, it is natural that ‘live shopping’ should form the cornerstone of Chinese retailers’ practical approach to the day as it is the manifestation of that infusion - consumers engaging with content alone on their personal devices but offered the chance to be part of a wider collective. Singles Day is powerful because it is inclusive for individuals.

Finally, calendrically the day comes at the beginning of a crucial 3-week period for many brands, which also includes Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and no one can afford to be tying their shoelaces when the starters’ pistol goes. Therefore, e-commerce experts will watch Singles Day 2022 with great interest, and although the current economic turbulence has led to predictions of a more modest rise than previously forecast, there is expected to be a rise nonetheless. Whether or not Western retailers can emulate the Chinese in the future is anyone’s guess, but one thing is for sure, it won’t be for a lack of effort.

Eliot Thomas

Graduate Digital Marketing Executive