The Explainer is where we explain an aspect of Chinese life. Simple. So now you know.
It’s a common complaint that Christmas and Valentine’s Day have become over-commercialized, but no holiday has been given a capitalist makeover quite like Singles’ Day, when China’s e-commerce giants slash their prices for 24 hours of frantic online sales. Before you scurry off on your cyber bargain hunt, here are 11 things you need to know about the shopping bonanza that is Shuang Shiyi.
1. We should really call it Double 11
The English name Singles’ Day takes its name from the Chinese Guanggun Jie (光棍节), but the date is now more commonly called Shuang Shiyi (双十一), or ‘Double 11,’ after the date, November 11, which when written 11/11 conjures the image of four singletons and/or four leafless trees. The Chinese term guanggun literally means ‘bare branches’ and refers specifically to single men. (Single ladies, at least those who’ve reached the age of *gasp* 28 without finding a husband, are known as shengnu or ‘leftover women.’) This year, Taobao even launched a seperate ‘Guanggun Jie’ shopping event on their special value app that will run until after Singles’ Day. Basically, the past month has been a sensory overload for online shoppers.
READ MORE: Taobao's 'Special Value' App is Selling Products for ¥1
2. Singles’ Day was started by lonely college guys
Singles’ Day was conceived innocently enough, reputedly in a dorm room at Nanjing University in 1993, by four single male students looking to liven up their lonely lives with fun group activities for singles like KTV-ing and eating youtiao – the deep-fried breakfast of champions that looks like the number yi. The idea quickly grew into a nationwide tradition for young singles, almost certainly spurred by China’s overabundance of young men – a sex ratio imbalance created by the one-child policy.
3. Alibaba turned Singles’ Day into China’s Cyber Monday
This being post-Deng China, someone had to imbue the Valentine’s Day for singles with Chinese characteristics. Enter Alibaba. In 2009, the company was looking for a way to boost sales during the commercial lull between the October Holiday and Chinese New Year, and seized on Singles’ Day – popular with their key user base of internet-savvy balinghou – as a marketing stunt, convincing 27 merchants to discount their goods on Tmall. By 2014, 27,000 merchants were on board. Fast forward to 2020, where 250,000 brands and five million merchants are predicted to take part, according to Forbes.
4. The race to RMB10 billion
Singles’ Day has seen phenomenal year-on-year growth, and in recent years has made it a point to celebrate certain gross merchandise volume (GMV) benchmarks, such as RMB10 billion. In 2016, it took Alibaba seven whole minutes to reach RMB10 billion, meanwhile the next year that time was cut in half, down to just over three minutes. In 2018, it took just 125 seconds to reach the RMB10 billion mark and last year we saw GMV hits its first target in 96 seconds. How long do you think it will take this year? Let us know in the comments section!
READ MORE: Alibaba Sells ¥10 Billion in 96 Seconds on Singles' Day, Breaks Record
5. Future sales are set to soar thanks to smartphones
A report published by research firm QuestMobile in January revealed that Chinese mobile users spent, on average, 6.2 hours a day online on their mobile devices – adding up to 1.8 days a week. Data was compiled from the beginning of 2019 to the end of November, and showed an 11.3% increase from the same period in 2018. China’s 1.56 billion active smartphones (greater than the country’s population) has driven tremendous revenue growth in e-commerce as an increasing number of people living in rural China join the online shopping blowout.
6. Singles’ Day isn’t really just one day anymore
Just as the build-up to Christmas seems to begin earlier every year, so it is with 11/11 as sites begin luring customers by advertising discounts in the weeks leading up to the big day. And this year, we’re seeing people go through greater lengths to earn coupons for products during Double 11. South China Morning Post reported that shoppers compete on in-app mini games for all sorts of deals in the weeks leading up to the shopping bonanza. One college student admitted to spending four to five hours per day raising a virtual cat on her phone.
7. Copycats abroad
Given the success of Alibaba’s big shopping festival, other platforms and countries have adopted their own marketing ploys. Double 11 has inspired events such as 9.9, 10.10 and 12.12, with Southeast Asian countries pushing for online shopping events to help economies recover amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Forbes reported. In China, expect competitors to also come up with their own 11.11 marketing campaigns.
In recent years, Alibaba has also focused on going global with the event. In August 2020, Tmall Global launched a virtual pitch event for US small and medium-sized businesses, called Go Global 11.11 Pitch Fest. Winners will have their products featured in the online shopping event.
8. The logistics are mindboggling
In Guangdong alone this year, the number of parcels that will be processed in the province is anticipated to hit 900 million. To help tackle the uptick in deliveries, an additional 150,000 temporary kuaidi guys have been hired. Some 65,000 vehicles will also be on standby.
9. Luxury brands are buying in
While luxury brands have previously participated in Double 11, this year we’ve seen premium brands like Balenciaga, Cartier, Prada and Valentino launch campaigns where shoppers can score exclusive items and gifts with free installment payment plans (not a great combination). But don’t expect coupons or discounts from these brands, that’s for the affordable luxury brands like Coach and Michael Kors.
10. Katy Perry and Jackie Chan are making an appearance
You’d be wrong to assume that Singles’ Day is all about shopping. The holiday’s entertainment factor is enough to sway your opinion, with a massive gala held each year in the lead-up to midnight. In previous years, we’ve seen Alibaba cofounder Jack Ma cruising the streets as a deliveryman and attempting to sell lipstick via livestream. This year, Katy Perry and Jackie Chan will be featured in the show at Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena. Perry dropped out of the 2016 gala, citing a family emergency. Rumors circulated in 2017 that Perry might have been ‘banned’ from China after the pop star was dropped from the 2017 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. To watch the gala livestream, click here.
11. Netizens share their Double 11 shopping experience
In the aftermath of Singles’ Day, some shoppers take to social media to share what they purchased or how much they spent. In 2019, among many Singles’ Day-related topics on Weibo, the hashtag #Double11WhatDidYouBuy (#双十一买什么#) gave readers an inside look at some consumers’ shopping carts.
This article was originally published on Thatsmags.com in November 2015. It has been updated and republished on November 10, 2020.
With files from Ella Wong and Ryan Gandolfo
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[Cover graphic by That's]
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