How Singles Day is a Global Phenomenon Beyond Alibaba and How It's Coming to America

Published
  • December 3, 2021 |
  • 7 Min Read

Brands have continued to overlook premier opportunities to engage with their customers. To date, the global phenomenon known as Singles’ Day remains underleveraged in the Western world. Singles’ Day is a massive shopping festival launched in China by e-commerce giant Alibaba. The event, taking place on November 11 and also referred to as “Double Eleven” or “11/11” was introduced and correspondingly named for bachelors, using the number “1” to denote a single man. Singles’ Day generated approximately $139 billion for Alibaba in 2021 over an 11-day sales period, representing an almost tenfold revenue increase since the 2009 inaugural event, and saw more than 250,000 brands participate. For reference, US retailers generated only $9 billion and $10.84 billion on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, respectively. Singles’ Day revenue has consistently surpassed US Thanksgiving weekend sales since 2015.

The Evolution of Singles’ Day

Since its inception, the single-day event has evolved into a three-week extravaganza. Now beginning on October 21, shoppers can begin adding items to their carts with guaranteed discount pricing. In anticipation of the earlier commencement of Singles’ Day, the guaranteed discount prices are announced three weeks prior to October 21. Then, on actual Singles’ Day, November 11, orders are simply processed. Alibaba’s transition to this pre-order model was likely meant to avoid website crashes. This technique was recently adopted by Best Buy and other retailers during the pandemic for Black Friday, where they offered guaranteed pricing as early as October 30 to work around supply shortages in the US

Three November Sales Holidays: Opportunistic or Excessive?

One would think that introducing a third major sales holiday on November 11, merely 12 days before Black Friday and subsequent Cyber Monday, would create too much fatigue and inconvenience for shoppers. This may be true for traditional retailers such as Best Buy, Macy’s, Walmart, and others associated with people clamoring over one another for door crasher deals, however, it does not apply to new generation e-commerce brands. E-commerce brands have traditionally leveraged Cyber Monday. However, the challenge associated with this sales holiday is the expectation that products will be deeply discounted, with 52% of consumers expecting 25 – 50% off and 21% expecting 50% or more. While this may not be an issue for larger fashion, luxury goods, and electronics providers, it represents an inconvenience to small-medium business owners and up-and-coming brands with products operating on a limited margin. Smaller companies with offerings such as subscription services, up-and-coming luxury goods, start-up electronics, and software typically do not have the margins to be able to afford such deep discounts. 

Singles’ Day represents an opportunity for brands of all sizes; it allows small-medium sized businesses to participate in a major sales holiday without losing a significant portion of their profits because it moves away from the Cyber Monday expectation of extreme discounts, while simultaneously providing these companies with increased brand awareness. Globally, Singles’ Day is a significant opportunity because there are currently no November sales holidays in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Europe, or the UK. For US brands looking to have a sales event outside of traditional US holidays which are not always understood globally, Singles’ Day represents a universally appealing holiday to consumers all around the world because it is not connected to any specific culture. Being single is a globally accepted concept and Singles’ Day can simply be viewed as another Hallmark holiday to bridge the gap between other sales. Singles’ Day also possesses significant entertainment value. An enormous part of the sales holiday extravaganza is the live streams, shows, and concerts, which have featured celebrities such as Daniel Craig, Mariah Carey, Taylor Swift, and Pharell Williams. In adopting Singles’ Day, brands can continue to capture this value and celebrate consumerism by leveraging entertainers and entertainment platforms.

Lagging Global Adoption of Singles’ Day 

Despite the significant opportunity posed by Singles’ Day, global brands have been slow to introduce the sales holiday. Singles’ Day continues to be widely perceived as a Chinese holiday related to Alibaba, with many brands unaware that it has evolved and gathered participation across many different retailers of all sizes, both online and offline. Furthermore, the global influence of US culture, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, has slowed the introduction of Singles’ Day. Like Best Buy’s adoption of the Singles’ Day pre-order model, the increase in global popularity of the sales holiday in 2021 was born out of yet another crisis – logistics bottlenecks. Hosting a sale at the beginning of November would guarantee orders to arrive in time for Christmas, whereas with end-of-November sales holidays, this is less realistic.

Shaping the New Wave of Hallmark Holidays

Singles’ Day represents a new holiday adhering to modern societal changes. Just as Hallmark holidays created in the past such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day reflected the importance of family, the newest generation of events should be based on the need for people to celebrate themselves. Furthermore, the increased incidence of e-commerce, which now comprises 14 percent of US retail sales and generated $475 billion dollars worldwide in 2020, is expected to account for 28.4 percent of sales by 2028, giving rise to the celebration of a greater number of holidays and associated sales. For example, celebrating the online platform itself as Amazon Prime does with its Prime Days, hosting e-commerce sales based on lesser-known but culturally popular holidays such as Children’s Day, or introducing altogether new events with societal relevance, such as those celebrating sustainability. As well, the benefit of e-commerce is its ability to regionalize days that are relevant to everybody in a small microcosm of geography, for example, hosting sales on events such as Cinco de Mayo or state/city birthdays because they are relevant to those users.

Though e-commerce has a ways to go with respect to leveraging its ability to adopt holidays and host sales, the global phenomenon that is Singles’ Day is the first step.

[7 Min Read]