See all Blog posts

How big an opportunity was Singles’ Day?

China's biggest discounting event beats Black Friday in sales. Is Singles' Day worth getting involved with? We've looked at the data and checked in with the retailers who cater to the self-gifting eve
Singles' Day

When most of the industry is focused on Black Friday, there's a far bigger discounting event potentially flying under your radar: China's Singles Day. As a retailer, do you need to build a 11.11 response into your strategy?

In China, November 11 is a day that celebrates singledom (one one / one one). Though it began humbly enough in the 90s as an anti-Valentine's Day protest put on by students, it has since gone on to become synonymous with something else: shopping. About 18 billion dollars worth and growing.

If you’re wondering how that happened, look no further than e-commerce giants Alibaba. In 2009, the retailer seized the day’s built-in celebration of oneself and added discounts; suggesting, if you’re not going to buy something for someone else, why not buy something for you? And just like that, a commerce-star was born.

Why Singles' Day is a big deal

After 35 years (1980-2015) of enforcing its one-child policy, China’s gender balance is wildly asymmetrical. By some estimates, there are now 20 million more men under 30 than there are women. That’s a lot single people - and on 11/11 almost everyone one of them becomes a self-interested shopper.

This year in China alone 34% of products discounted on Singles Day sold out. That's mammoth compared to Black Friday discounting at US retailers in 2015, where just 9% of discounts resulted in same day sell outs.

In China, 34% of products discounted on Singles' Day sold out  compared to just 9% on Black Friday.

Who does it and how?

Well, namely Alibaba. Singles' Day is to Alibaba what Prime Day is to Amazon. And just like other retailers jump in with Prime Day tactics of their own, so do retailers on Singles' Day.

And it’s spreading, even outside of China. This year Nasty Gal, Monki, Forever 21 (who last year had a Veteran's Day sale instead) and H&M, all ran Singles' Day promotions in their non-Chinese email newsletters for the first time.

Most commonly, retailers offered a 11% reduction. That's the case for Australian sports brand Lorna Jane, for H&M and for Monki (who used the code "Singleladies"). Other strategies included Nasty Gal’s more tempting 25% reductions and Bik Bok's 30% reduction on tops.

[gallery ids="38549,38550,38551,38552,38553"]

But not everyone is ramping up their Singles' Day strategies just yet. Bloomingdales opted out this year, after they promoted a 'Singles' Day Shop' in 2015 and had a gift giveaway with every purchase. This year Bloomingdales made no mention of the Chinese holiday, instead referring to a Private Sale.

Similar story at Old Navy who last year had an 11/11 newsletter featuring $11 bargains for women. This year Old Navy made no reference to the date and instead ran a 'Today Only' sale on $10 sweaters.

Perhaps this year the date clash with Veteran's Day put retailers off, especially since it followed a big week of uncertainty tied to the U.S. election.

What sells?

The average discount on Singles' Day in China is 33%. That's actually quite modest compared to the U.S. average discount on that day: 41%.

The categories with the most discounting are tops (accounting for 28% of the reductions), footwear (23%), accessories (15%) and bottoms (14%). This year, tops sold fastest, accounting for 30% of sell outs in China. Bottoms was the next best performing category. The most discounted brands in China were Tod's, Hogan, Dolce & Gabbana and Michael Michael Kors. In the U.S. the most discounted brands were POLO Ralph Lauren, Kate Spade and Crocs.

Is it for you?

For many retailers, it wouldn't be ethical to manufacture specifically to Singles' Day. Instead, are there ways to use the event to speed up slow moving products that may otherwise result in dead stock, or worse, dumped? Those small discounts of 11% are relatively trivial and a pretty harmless way to get involved. The event could come at little more cost to a business - a simple student discount or free shipping code would do it.

The event may make for extra content in marketing but before you go slashing prices, take a moment to consider your customer. Are you shipping globally? Would your shoppers know of the holiday? Does your consumer group skew towards families or to single shoppers?

If your competitors aren't catering to the event, don't needlessly slash your prices and commit to yet another discounting holiday that doesn't necessarily resonate with your shoppers.