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What is Singles’ Day and how will it look in 2017?

Singles' Day is the world's largest retail event. We take a look at what it is, and what it means for global retail.

Singles' Day is China's big retail event, in fact the world's largest--beating Amazon's prime day--and this year is set to surpass last year's $17.8 billion spend.

Held on 11th November (because the date 11.11 looks like single figures), the celebration came out of Chinese universities in the 90s, but it was retailer Alibaba that first came up with the retail event in 2009. They've even trademarked the Chinese word for 'Double 1'.

China's millennial population, after years of the single child law and a cultural favouring of sons, has a surplus of men - around 33 million more millennial males than females. By 2030, it's estimated that 1 in 4 men in their late 30s will never marry.

A new consumer group

That means in China the single economy is a big deal. Not only do these customers have a higher disposable income, but they have four sets of grandparents to financially support them and from whom they'll inherit.

Undoubtedly this consumer will affect the way the Chinese market grows. But there are traits here that influence the Western markets too. In the West, consumers are delaying purchasing homes and starting families, which means more years with higher disposable incomes. What brands and products does the footless and fancy-free thirty-something consumer want?

Interestingly, data shows that Singles' Day shoppers aren't just after the bargains - they prioritize quality over price.

This year, Alibaba are hosting their Superbowl-style televised event to draw attention to deals on their sites Tmall and Taobao. But they aren't the only destination consumers will shop, with a big entrant to the market this year.

What about beyond China?

It's a tricky date for UK and US retailers to promote to their shoppers, as it falls on Armistice Day and Veterans Day respectively. But some Western retailers are getting in on the action too. Monki, H&M, Old Navy, Forever 21 and Bloomingdales have all launched one day discount events on November 11 in the past.

In 2016, just 1.3% of the US market was reduced on Singles’ Day, with the majority of deals focusing on 11% reductions, or $11 selections.

Retailers have a narrow full-price purchase window in the fall season before the sales frenzy. Promoting a last opportunity to indulge oneself guilt-free ahead of the gift season could be a good way to extend a product's full-price lifespan.

Realistically it doesn't make sense for US retail to build yet another discount day into its calendar. However, there is something in paying attention to the shifting consumer group globally. It's a consumer who has a strong sense of self and is highly discerning about the quality of the products they buy into.