China Singles Day Sales Explained: 2015 Recap

by | Jan 26, 2016

How do you create the world record for online sales in 24 hours? Take a Chinese holiday and transform it into a shopping extravaganza! That’s exactly what Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce giant, did. In fact, in 2015, shoppers spent nearly $5 billion (USD) in just over 90 minutes for Alibaba’s ‘Singles Day’ event, and a total of $14.3 billion (USD) in just 24 hours, according to Business Insider. The sales were up 57% over 2014, where Alibaba only made $9.3 billion (USD).

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAXeAAAAJGYzZDU4NjFiLTk2YTQtNGU4MC1iNWQyLTg5ZmRkNjZiOGZlNgIn China, Singles Day wasn’t originally a shopping holiday. It was first created as a sort of ‘anti-Valentine’s Day’ in 1993. Young Chinese men and women created the Singles Day festival to celebrate the fact that they are proud of being single, and chose the day of November 11th (11/11) because the plethora of “1s” best represented their single status. However, Single’s Day was never meant to be a somber holiday.

It was promoted as a day for singles to enjoy life and presents just like couples. Just as couples purchase gifts on Valentine’s Day, Singles Day was promoted as an opportunity for people to treat themselves, and to buy the things they’d always wanted. Retailers soon discovered the benefit of such a holiday.

Retailers marketed Singles Day using hefty discounts to lure the country’s singletons and price-sensitive buyers into their stores and online. The festival has gradually become one of the largest online shopping days in the world. It all began in 2009, when Alibaba—the world’s leading platform for global trade, which owns the popular online shopping platforms, Taobao.com and Tmall.com—launched a massive marketing push around the holiday.

Impressively, Alibaba does not actually sell products directly, but acts as the middleman, operating China’s most popular consumer-to-consumer platform, Taobao, which is estimated to hold 90% of the market.

For the first launch of Singles Day, Alibaba offered special “Double-11” deals and their timing was perfect. E-commerce exploded in China between 2009-2013 leading to a 5,740% growth in Alibaba’s sales, reported the Atlantic.

In comparison to the profitability of China’s Singles Day, The Guardian shared the total desktop sales for the five days from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday in the US, which only reached $6.56 billion (USD) in 2014. That’s less than half the volume of Alibaba’s sales achieved in just 24-hours.

Unlike Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US, China’s Singles Day is more than just a shopping holiday; it’s a national celebration and brilliant marketing event led by Alibaba. While Alibaba used to be known only as an online retailer similar to Amazon, they’ve expanded to become an entertainment company with a television production arm and an online streaming service. Their expansion into entertainment has played a large role in the hugely successful Singles Day sales, particularly in 2015.

Alibaba combined their brilliant sales marketing with a three-hour television special titled, “Tmall’s Double-11 Night Carnival.” They used the LIVE television event to garner excitement for the insane “Double-11” deals that would begin at midnight—closing out the show.

The show included Kevin Spacey as President Frank Underwood, from the insanely popular show House of Cards. He delivered a two-minute message to would-be Chinese shoppers. “If this Singles Day is the excuse you’ve been waiting for to spoil yourself with a little online shopping, then I must say I’m more than a little jealous,” he said in Underwood’s trademark Southern drawl.

The event also included guest appearances by Daniel Craig, of James Bond fame, as well as singer Adam Lambert, and a host of other Chinese celebrities, according to the LA Times. The night was on of the first times that online shopping and entertainment was fused into an incredible consumer-oriented event.

To encourage Chinese consumers to watch the show and to shop, viewers who tuned into the broadcast were able to play along online with some of the game-show segments. Those individuals who correctly predicted the winning team in each content segment unlocked the chance to buy special items like imported Australian milk and Cadillacs for only 15 cents. At its peak viewership, according to the tracking site Kuyun.com, the show generated nearly a 30% audience share, a rating equal to or higher than CCTV’s New Year galas.

Alongside the show, Alibaba also took advantage of the fact that millions of young Chinese people use their mobile phones for shopping. They made it simple and convenient to purchase anything and everything directly through their mobile device. The mobile-focus worked, evidenced by the fact that there were 70 million mobile buyers as of 2 p.m. China Time, and mobile purchases accounted for 71% of purchases in 2015, up from 43% in 2014, according to The Street.

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Alibaba also broke records on Singles Day for total number of packages delivered. Its delivery affiliate Cainiao received 310 million orders on Single’s Day in 2015—a 32-million order increase over 2014. In a tweet, @PDChina reported that Alibaba would need 1.7 million deliverymen, 400 thousand vehicles, 5 thousand warehouses, and 200 airplanes to handle its Singles Day sales.

While Alibaba was definitely the front-runner in sales on Singles Day, they weren’t the only ones to benefit from the shopping holiday. JD.com, a rival of Alibaba, also increased its sales over 2014. They processed 20 million orders in 24-hour period that started at midnight, 6 million more orders than last year, according to the same article in The Street. In fact, their sales were so impressive, that by 6:30 p.m. China Time, JD had received more orders than it did in the past five Singles Days combined.

And Singles Day isn’t just an event that’s good for companies; it’s great for the flailing Chinese economy. China has the world’s largest online population of 668 million people, and according to The Guardian, the office of the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, phoned Alibaba’s chairmen, Jack Ma, just hours before the promotion kicked off in order to congratulate and encourage the event.

Overall, Singles Day is an impressive 24-hours, that only seems to be gaining steam. It will be interesting to see how Alibaba plans to top their entertainment and shopping spectacular in 2016, and if they’ll be able to.