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November 9, 2016

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Double 11: world’s biggest shopping spree

ON November 11, as Europe commemorates Armistice Day and the US licks its wounds after a bruising presidential election, the people of China will be engaged in the world’s largest one-day shopping extravaganza.

It’s called Single’s Day or Double-11 Day — an obscure folk holiday transformed by Alibaba into a 24-hour online shopping spree. Last year the event raked in sales of US$14.3 billion, greater than the annual GDP of Nicaragua, Laos or Jamaica. Purchases via smartphones accounted for 72 percent of sales.

The folk holiday originated on the campus of Nanjing University in 1993 as a way for unmarried people to party together and celebrate their single status. They chose the 11th day of the 11th month to symbolize the solo nature of the numeral one.

In 2008, Alibaba, the world’s largest e-commerce company, used its marketing expertise to seize on the concept and turn it into a one-day shopping extravaganza, fueled by heavy discounts. The timing was perfect. China was just entering an era when online retailing was exploding.

Single’s Day began as a day to buying something you’ve always wanted. Now it means a day to seize bargains for anything and everything — an infectious urge to shop.

Marketing campaigns and promotions for this year’s event were unveiled about one month ago, giving clever consumers a leg up in purchases through pre-sale offerings.

“After comparing prices for infant formula and other maternity products for the past few weeks, it turns out and Yihaodian usually have more favorable prices for the products I want,” said Shanghai resident Miriam Yuan, mother of a two-year old boy, describing her trolling through all the pre-Single’s Day offers.

Still undecided about where to buy diapers, Yuan is scanning all the coupon offers to find the best bargains.

But it’s not just about discount coupons. Single’s Day, with its fierce competition in the online shopping realm, is a treat for consumers who like to easily compare prices across different platforms and channels.

Last year, Tmall, Alibaba Group’s business-to-consumer site, said its shopping extravaganza attracted more than 40,000 merchants and 5,000 global brands from 25 countries. This year, it’s expecting to host more than 98,000 merchants and as many as 10 million types of merchandise.

A Nielsen survey of 1,200 consumers across 31 Chinese provinces last month revealed that nine of 10 consumers will participate in this year’s Single’s Day event. Some 60 percent said they have already looked at or joined pre-sales online activities.

Alibaba hasn’t disclosed how many shoppers participated in pre-sales, which began about three weeks before November 11. Not did the company reveal transaction volumes of down payments for goods in that period. is offering daily discounts for selected categories from late October until November 11. On November 1 alone, the volume of merchandise sold surged more than 10 times from the same period last year, with smartphones, TV sets, laptop computers and home electronics appliances among the top sellers, the company said.

Price, of course, remains the major attraction of Single’s Day. About two-thirds of people say that is the main reason they participate. One-third said it’s a great opportunity to try out new products.

Another blockbuster?

Shanghai office worker Daisy Miao, who is in her early 30s, said Tmall vendors are offering discounts for a wide range of New Zealand nutritional supplements, saving her the trouble of having to scan other online vendors or ask her friends to bring some of the products home when they travel abroad.

“I paid a down payment of 40 yuan (US$6) on Tmall, which is generally reliable when it comes to imported goods and delivery speed,” she said.

Tmall is also targeting Hong Kong and Taiwan buyers this year, offering selected merchandise that will be shipped directly from warehouses. Overseas Chinese shoppers can pay with their credit cards or, in the case of Hong Kong, with their Octopus cards.

But Hong Kong shoppers like Even Zhou, a cultural services worker, said most of her friends find it’s easier to buy imported goods from local retailers.

For some, the hype and hubbub of Single’s Day has grown confusing.

“It’s takes more and more time to figure out how to use different kinds of coupons from various online vendors, and I wish they could be more straightforward about what discounts are being offered,” said Shanghai office worker Eva Dong.

Analysts will be watching to see how Single’s Day this year fares, amid a general slowdown in online retail growth.

The annual growth rate of China’s business-to-consumer online retail market is expected to decline to 17.6 percent between 2016 and 2012, from 64.2 percent in the prior five years, according to Mintel studies. It estimates growth in transactions will decline to about 40 percent from 76 percent last year.

“Slowing growth will increase competition in the market, thus requiring more value-added services to attract and retain customers,” said Matthew Crabbe, director of research for Asia Pacific at Mintel.

Brands will also need to pour more resources into integrating online and offline services.

Nielsen’s study concluded that new strategies, like content marketing, individualized ads and celebrity endorsements, have had limited effect on consumers as a whole, though they seem to find favor among people aged between 26-35.

Sophisticated marketing gimmicks that are wearing thin with savvy consumers in big metropolises may still have some life in smaller cities across China, analysts said. Alibaba, for one, uses interactive technology to attract the attention of buyers.

Through its tie-up with Tencent, has been offering individualized recommendations based on shoppers’ social-networking preferences by cross-sharing advertising and purchasing data.

Single’s Day has become as much about entertainment as it is about shopping. Last year, Alibaba aired a three-hour television special to drum up attention for Double-11 deals. The show included a host of Chinese celebrities and appearances by Kevin Spacey, who stars in the popular show “House of Cards,” and Daniel Craig of 007 fame.

This year’s entertainment includes a concert by pop star Katy Perry.

So now the countdown is on to midnight on Friday, when the actual Single’s Day extravaganza officially begins. Will it be another record blockbuster?


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