A Cheatsheet To China’s Retail Festivals, Part 2

When it comes to shopping 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. Plus, given the speed at which the sector is evolving, it’s likely new ones will continue to emerge that will similarly require attention.

Vanessa Wu from marketing agency Gusto Luxe suggests that China’s environmental movement will grow in importance over time. “Rather than taking on more western festivals, I think there’s scope for some international initiatives around sustainability in the China market as it’s becoming a hot topic. So moments like world environment day, earth day, etc.,” she explains. 

As well as merely tapping existing festivals (perhaps halfheartedly), there is scope for international brands to drive or invent their own markers — after all, domestic concerns have shown they can do it, so global luxury could follow suit. 

But until then, do you know your Mid-Autumn Festival from your Lunar New Year? Read on for Jing Daily’s cheatsheet to the opportunities behind the county’s retail extravaganzas.

Mid-Autumn Festival

Also known as the Mooncake Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival is tied to the lunar calendar (and can therefore change date); it takes place in September and generally follows Qixi. A time for family reunions, this is one of the most significant traditional festivals in mainland culture, alongside Chinese New Year. 

Dates: September–October (according to the lunar calendar). In 2023, it will fall on September 29.

Opportunity: The country’s size means that the workforce is widely spread out, and so the Mid-Autumn Festival has become one of the most important occasions for family reunions — explaining why so many firms target the market over this period. The mooncake has been a rich source of revenue for countless luxury groups in their attempts to retain relationships with local VIP clients and stakeholders. Now it’s turned into a full-scale gateway for houses to engage consumers with anything from watermarking sets (Louis Vuitton) to chess boards (Canada Goose). 

Expert verdict: Having a brand promotion strategy in place for the Mid-Autumn Festival has become extremely important in recent years, consultant Youjin Cui explains. “Ideally, the collection or the products from the brand should include some typical elements of this festival, for example ‘moon,’ ‘family gathering,’ and so on.” And he is quick to emphasize the significance of a festival that brings large families together, now often spread out across the nation’s landmass. 

Louis Vuitton’s Mid-Autumn Festival gift box in 2022 spotlighted Chinese woodcut watermarking. Photo: @JiWeiran

Mother’s Day 

This universally recognized celebration really does cover all the bases: from nostalgia marketing to themes of femininity and family.

Dates: Second Sunday of May. In 2023, it falls on May 14.

Opportunities: While Mother’s Day isn’t even the biggest shopping event in May (sandwiched between Labor Day and 520), both the “she economy” and “silver economy” have become increasingly important. This offers room to hone both women-focused messaging as well as health and wellness initiatives. According to e-commerce giant JD.com, while more than half of the products geared toward Mother’s Day on its platform in 2020 were clothing, jewelry gifts accounted for 35 percent in 2022. 

Expert verdict: Gusto Luxe’s Wu says: “I can see the potential of Mother’s day, as some brands are pushing more initiatives around inclusivity and diversity.” She also suggests that establishments can target “different demographics” by appealing to “generation fluid.” Wu namechecks her work with jewelry line Missoma, adding how it “values the link between mothers and daughters, and gifting between best friends.” And finally, there’s simply the idea of giving “from me to me” another area to leverage. 

Missoma’s 2021 Mother’s Day campaign highlighted the bond between mothers and daughters. Photo: Missoma

Qixi Festival 

One of China’s (many) answers to Valentine’s Day, Qixi is a traditional festival that has only recently started to come to the attention of global companies. Like its counterparts, it centers love and romance.

Dates: July–August (lunar calendar). This next will be July 7, 2023.

Opportunities: Players prepare for this event months in advance and launch dedicated campaigns and limited edition products that move beyond tradition, adding modern twists that speak to today’s younger shoppers. From leather goods to hard luxury, this is a veritable cash cow for companies if they can get their offerings right.   

Expert verdict: Cui sees this one as more of a challenge. He suggests the festival has become “tricky, primarily as Chinese people are somewhat shy when it comes to expressing themselves about love. However, the general idea behind this promotion is not essentially different from western markets.” And it can still be a way to educate the wider populace about your make. He points to Balenciaga’s series of Qixi edition bags which were well-designed, despite initially receiving negative feedback. Craftsmanship won out: “In the end, the brand and product went viral on Chinese social media channels.” 

Balenciaga’s limited edition bags for Qixi 2020 were originally called “tasteless” by Chinese netizens. Photo: Balenciaga

Spring Festival 

The year starts with the Spring Festival, also known as Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year. It’s a time when families come together to celebrate — and for lots of retail therapy. It runs for 15 days with the Lantern Festival taking place on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, and marks the end of the New Year celebrations.

Dates: Typically, the Spring Festival begins on the 23rd of the 12th Chinese lunar month. This means it falls between January–February, with January 22, 2023 being the next date.

Opportunities: Although the Spring Festival has been hampered and reshaped by the pandemic, it is still one of the country’s most important dates. The knock-on effect of COVID-19 is that both the stay-at-home and self-care economies have been growing, driven by livestreaming, advanced e-commerce sites, and social commerce. 

Expert verdict: The Spring Festival is a tough one for brands to get right, Jack Porteous, Client Services Director at cross-border platform Samarkand Global, believes. “It is generally seen as more of a branding opportunity than a high-traffic moment to generate enormous impact for the top line. A clumsy interpretation of Chinese culture — just making things red and gold — rarely works and can do more harm than good.” He points to footwear brand Vans’ collaboration with Chen Yingjie as an example of a successful 2022 campaign, which achieved “amazing engagement and was a creative and playful use of Tiger print on the soles.” Thinking outside the box here is an absolute must. 

Vans partnered with renowned Chinese artist Chen Yingjie to celebrate the Year of the Tiger. Photo: Vans

Valentine’s Day

China’s love of romantically-themed festivities includes this global event, which originated in Europe as the Feast of St. Valentine. 

Dates: February 14.

Opportunity: Choosing to celebrate this western festival can be a risk. If a brand does choose to commemorate the date, it’s also wise to endorse another of its more locally-authentic equivalents. To add to the complication, the dates can often overlap with Chinese New Year. That said, the emotional resonance of the day means rewards are often plentiful. Gold, believed to bring good luck to the wearer, is often a top choice and last year JD.com reported a 3.5 times increase in purchases. 

Expert verdict: “Western Valentine’s is very close to the Spring Festival and so is often ignored by brands except for some cute social content,” Porteous observes. In his view, it’s important for them to not over-saturate customers with deals or feel the need to participate in every single sales opportunity. “Having an annual calendar and identifying the moments which resonate with your brand image and personality turns straightforward discounting opportunities into a brand-enhancing festival, one that can encourage loyalty and help re-engage with old customers,” he continues. 

Gucci’s Valentine’s Day 2022 campaign featured origami-shaped purses and Chinese superstar Xiao Zhan.

Women’s Day

This festival allows for the commemoration and celebration of women’s rights and achievements. As a relatively new entry to the line-up, it has been slowly growing over time. With domestic e-commerce giants seeking to make it another one of the country’s many shopping carnivals, it’s on track for big things.

Dates: March 8.

Opportunity: Businesses that seek to broaden conversations and drive social change will find the most success during this event. At 866 million, women shoppers are an economic force not to be overlooked. But companies must be agile and alert if they wish to make the most of the opportunity — especially in the current climate of shifting gender and social politics. Alongside the typical superbrands, homegrown ventures such as intimates line Neiwai and cosmetic label Proya have begun to do well in this period.

Expert verdict: Co-founder of Kuai Commerce Jonny Plein notes that in recent years, major e-commerce retail festivals have gradually shifted their positioning from being commercially driven to a “hybrid mode combining both a commercial and entertainment focus.” This means they want to not only sell but also engage the younger generations on cultural, technological, and fashion-trending topics. 

His general advice is that businesses should “try to adopt a multi-channel strategy, and to incorporate more social e-commerce to play smart, rather than put too much investment on traditional e-commerce channels which are sometimes budget driven. It is clear this approach will diversify the risk, while tapping the uprising and more decentralized interests from young Chinese consumers.” 

Neiwai opened an offline exhibition for International Women’s Day 2022. Photo: Neiwai

Brands have to be brave enough to stand out, while remaining true to a festivity’s authentic meaning and identity. It’s no holiday — but if they can manage such a delicate balancing act, there will always be something to celebrate.

Click here for A Cheatsheet To China’s Retail Festivals, Part 1

Additional reporting by Lisa Nan