When it comes to retail festivals in China, most think of the lucrative Singles’ Day. While it’s certainly the biggest event of the calendar, there are plenty more dates throughout the year for retail capitalization in the country. They come not only with huge GMV potential over a short timespan but offer unbeatable exposure — and allow labels to integrate themselves into the daily lives of Chinese shoppers.
Still, these extravaganzas are not without risk, especially for premium and luxury. As such, they require a dedicated and timely strategy so that brands can find authentic ways to connect with local audiences. So do you know your Golden Week from Qixi? Read on for Jing Daily’s cheatsheet to the opportunities behind the county’s retail festivals.
520 or I Love You Day
The pronunciation of 520 sounds similar to “I love you” in Mandarin which is why this date is often associated with Valentine’s day or Qixi; but it is a separate, standalone date which is enjoyed in China.
Dates: May 20
Opportunity: While its visibility and popularity fluctuate, 520 offers many opportunities given its alignment with the evergreen theme of romance. More recently, global firms have gone to great lengths to offer bespoke items, and some have even found success by playing with the very concept of love. In May 2022, Margiela debuted a New Lock handbag exclusive to the market which was decorated with an “I love” twist locker. When the bag fastens, “I love” can be seen; when open, various options are presented such as “You,” “The Earth,” “My Cat,” and “Maison Margiela.”
Expert Verdict: Both Feb 14 and 520 are good opportunities to encourage gifting and bundled purchases. Given the amount of these romantic holidays, Vanessa Wu from marketing agency Gusto Luxe advises ascertaining which one in particular works for you. “The key is to assess the relevance between the festival and the brand’s offerings and storytelling. Be selective and focus on the ones that are right for the brand, so as not to dilute the brand positioning,” she says.
618 (also known as the Mid-Year Shopping Festival)
This festival was pioneered by e-commerce giant JD.com in 2004 as a way to commemorate the company’s founding anniversary. The event has since become China’s second-largest retail gala after November’s Singles’ Day.
Dates: June 18 with a warming-up and cooling-down period before and after. Pre-sales often start in mid-May, giving a whole month of promotion.
Opportunity: Local marketplaces including Tmall, Douyin, Xiaohongshu, and even global e-commerce platforms like Farfetch have rolled out various discount programs as part of the celebrations. Still, this festival isn’t for everyone. It works better for consumer goods labels, especially those in the beauty sector, and also favors homegrown lines. Anta and Li-ning have performed brilliantly on major platforms, while Florasis and Perfect Diary topped the beauty category in terms of sales. In fashion, women’s clothing company Urban Revivo surpassed the international name Uniqlo in sales.
Expert verdict: As far as sales go, 618 is the second most important festival in the calendar, explains Jack Porteous, Client Services Director at cross-border platform Samarkand Global. “Having a differentiated strategy to engage consumers at different points of this marathon shopping festival is vital, e.g. offering an exclusive or unique gift with purchases, limited edition digital assets or NFTs, and posts from brand ambassadors, KOLs, and KOCs to maintain engagement.” In this sense, managing product range and pricing across all channels is a challenge for businesses of all sizes. Porteous advises working closely with partners in the market to “plan well and maximize sales across the whole ecosystem.”
In 2010, internet retail giant Suning created 818 to celebrate its anniversary. Now many more companies, from short video platform Douyin to Alibaba’s Tmall, have their own version of the event.
Dates: August 18
Opportunity: This festival has yet to make its mark globally, which means there is scope for maneuver from international names seeking a marketing exercise.
Expert verdict: Co-founder of Kuai Commerce (an e-commerce agency which helps western labels sell their products to Chinese consumers) Jonny Plein remarks that these lesser-known festivals “might not be merely seen as a marketplace for sales opportunities development anymore but also for brand building and community establishment.” Moreover, less hype might offer more room to experiment. The exercise, then, is simply about “finding a retail occasion you can own.”
11.11 (also known as Double 11 or Singles’ Day)
This unofficial holiday is now the mainland’s single biggest shopping extravaganza. In 2021, despite it being more of a muted affair, China’s two tech giants (Alibaba and JD.com) set a new record by earning around $139 billion (1 trillion RMB) in sales across their combined platforms.
Dates: November 11, but has evolved to include a run-up which can extend to weeks beforehand.
Opportunities: Double 11 is without parallel: up to 900 million shoppers are believed to have taken part in 2021, and the schedule boasts luxury titans like Gucci, Burberry, Chopard, and Coach among its record 290,000 brand alumni. But with great potential comes great rivalry.
Expert verdict: Plein observes that the top mistakes are to “compete without any preparation” or “take part only because others are there.” Because of the high awareness and huge potential traffic on Double 11, most outfits tend to take part without realizing how fierce the competition could be. “During this period, all the marketing promotional resources from KOL, media, and online adverts are contested by tons of names. If you are not capable or well-planned, it is easy to be ignored,” he continues.
12.12 (also known as Double 12 or Couples Day)
Invented by Alibaba in 2012, this is the marital counterpart to Singles Day. If 11.11 is China’s take on the US’ Black Friday, then 12.12 would be Cyber Monday.
Dates: December 12, with a run-up period.
Opportunity: Here the main focus is on discounts — in a massive gathering of companies looking to offload end-of-year stock before the new year. Therefore, while it is more difficult for luxury to navigate in terms of branding, it has its upsides. Double Twelve is also roughly six weeks before Chinese New Year celebrations, and so can be another window to leverage that period’s focus on gift-giving.
Expert verdict: Michelle Qin of Tritanium Ventures, which helps labels grow in Asia, suggests that this represents a second chance for the companies that missed out on 11.11. “It’s a great way for them to kick off their end-of-season discounts. Most local consumers have to guess or don’t know when these late sales are coming, so spectaculars like this offer a clear way for this to be marked.”
This well-established festival is the mainland’s only holiday dedicated to kids.
Dates: June 1
Opportunities: Luxury rarely taps Children’s Day for promotional events, but given the importance of youngsters in Chinese society, houses should be taking full advantage of their privileged role. In addition, locally-owned Lanvin recently showed how the festival can be reinterpreted to give a wider net. In June 2022, it nimbly leveraged the holiday to speak to adults in their twenties and thirties about being their authentic, child-like selves.
Expert verdict: Choose the social media platform wisely, Lang Xiao, founder of ARTouch Consulting, art and luxury communication and strategy, notes. “Xiaohongshu is probably the most influential and effective channel to reach middle-class and upper-middle-class Chinese parents. The almighty algorithm can always bring the products to their fingertips.” This also means that KOCs are a brand’s best ambassadors — as they are so good at sharing genuine and creative reviews. “Xiaohongshu and other established e-commerce as well as physical shops can generate a CRM cycle. For example, users encounter the product via Xiaohongshu. They then make the purchase, and can go back to the platform to review the products.”
This week-long national holiday commemorates the founding of the PRC and historically is the busiest period for travel. According to data published by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, during the seven-day festivities, 422 million people made trips across the country, and domestic tourism revenue was $40.4 billion (287.2 billion RMB) during 2022’s festive season. Currently, the situation is even more difficult to ascertain as the mainland goes in and out of lockdowns: compared to pre-pandemic levels, travel and spending were reduced by 39.3 and 56.8 percent, respectively.
Dates: October 1–7
Opportunities: Despite the uncertainty, this holiday is not to be overlooked. Travel and tourism are key here: given their tax-free status, “China’s Hawaii” of Hainan and Macau became a favored retail destination for luxury consumers who couldn’t travel abroad during the pandemic. But in lieu of restricted travel, citizens are making do with other gifts. This is where the food, alcohol, and non-alcohol beverage can benefit — a plus for the sector’s global luxury names. The statistics say it all: during this year’s Golden Week, the capital’s 52 key shopping districts received a total of 31.9 million visitors. Online and offline sales reached $1.09 billion (7.84 billion RMB) in revenue, realizing a 5.4 percent year-on-year increase.
Expert Verdict: According to Gusto Luxe’s Wu, this is the only occasion that maisons don’t put enough consideration into. “As the market becomes more and more conscious of the wellbeing topic, it creates bigger prospects for brands related to outdoor activities, activewear, travel, and hospitality, which at the moment are mainly domestic ones. But international players need to plan ahead for the return of long haul travel.” There’s ample scope to strategize around this occasion. As shown by the figures, it’s a potential goldmine.
Additional reporting by Lisa Nan
Click here for part 2 of your cheatsheet to China’s retail festivals.