Things Come Together on Singles’ Day

The Most Wonderful Day of the Year

Singles_day_lYesterday’s 11.11 date was Singles’ Day in China — a relatively new day of celebration for single men and women across the country. However, like many holidays intended to celebrate a worthy cause, the day quickly became commercialised. Chinese Singles’ Day is now the world’s most important for e-commerce, and the resulting statistics tell an amazing story about Chinese consumers and the surging importance of a few companies.

Xiaomi is always worthy of attention. Constant news about successful flash sales in select Asian countries are designed to amaze, but the company’s sales figures on Singles’ Day were real lookers. Company executives tweeted that 720,000 Mi phones were sold after 12 hours. After 24 hours, Xiaomi claimed sales of 1.16 million handsets, enough to move the market share needle within China and globally. Revenue for the day was more than a quarter of a billion dollars, a 2.8 times that of Singles’ Day sales a year ago and a particularly noteworthy figure as Xiaomi wasn’t selling a new phone: these were well-known Mi smartphone models sold at unsubsidised prices.

However, the day belonged to Alibaba, in some ways literally — Alibaba claims a trademark on the “double 11” symbol, and started the tradition of the shopping day five years ago. The e-commerce company said that $9.3 billion worth of goods were sold via its site on Singles’ Day, a global record and up from $5.8 billion on the same day last year. Xiaomi was the top-selling brand sold through Alibaba yesterday, but other leading companies included Chinese Haier and Huawei.

The online sales this year are a strong indication of the changing spending patterns of Chinese consumers. Singles’ Day can be compared with Cyber Monday in the US, a day at the end of November intended to be an online version of Black Friday. Last year, Cyber Monday sales reached $2.3 billion for all sites across the US — a great success, but still a fraction of the sales figures recorded on Singles’ Day. Tech-savvy Chinese consumers are leading the way.

Alibaba reported that 43% of transactions came via a mobile device, and other retailers described similar numbers. This is an indication of things to come, and firms looking to compete should think mobile. Singles’ Day is a young person’s game.

Singles’ Day 2014 brought a great degree of international attention and sales. More people in the West and Asian countries are following e-commerce developments in China, in part thanks to Alibaba’s initial public offering in September, and Chinese e-commerce firms are looking to make events like Singles’ Day more international. It’s possible that one of China’s great exports could be traditions like this. Firms and shoppers from around the world are already participating — unity was cause for celebration in many places this Single’s Day.