Singles’ Day: China’s E-Tailers Prepare For The Love Holiday Turned Sales Extravaganza

A Singles' Day promotion on Tmall.

A Singles’ Day promotion on Tmall. (Tmall.com)

With a name like Singles’ Day, one would imagine China’s bars, restaurants, KTV clubs, and other entertainment venues to be sweeping up the sales, positioning themselves as places to party for the bachelors and bachelorettes that the day purportedly celebrates. But it’s online retailers that are running away with the biggest piece of the profit pie.

Started as a university fad in Nanjing in the 1990s for young Chinese to celebrate their single status, the holiday has morphed, with substantial help from e-commerce companies, into a nationwide internet sales extravaganza, and is one of the biggest sales days of the year. According to China Daily, the sales revenue generated from a handful of internet retailers in China on Singles’ Day last year more than doubled the total amount generated in the United States on Cyber Monday of the same year, with the country’s two largest online shopping websites, Taobao.com and Tmall.com, both owned by Alibaba, raking in a combined USD$3.06 billion, compared to the USD$1.25 billion of U.S. sales.

With so much cash up for grabs, online retailers are advertising a wide range of competitive discounts, with increasingly savvy campaigns that attempt to distinguish themselves with humor, style, and celebrity endorsements in addition to bargain-basement prices to lure in online shoppers looking for everything from household appliances to outdoor gear and beauty supplies.

This year, online retailer Jingdong Mall (JD.com), known for speedy, same-day delivery of orders—often within hours—is running a series of humorous advertisements for Singles’ Day on the walls of subway stations, bus station billboards, and screens of in-bus televisions. In one, a darkly suntanned woman with obvious tan lines around her eyes and neck from sunglasses and a necklace forlornly holds a just-delivered box of suntan lotion. “How can you use ‘slow delivery’?” asks the ad, using a Mandarin play on words for “delivery services”.

Tmall.com opens up to an animated advertisement with cute animal characters wearing hats emblazoned with brands set for half-off discounts, including The North Face, Jack and Jones, and Haier, with a catchy song advertising sales. This site also features a video montage of a number of big-name Chinese celebrities telling shoppers that on 11/11, “going on tmall.com is enough.”

Amazon China is sending out regular email blasts to users advertising discounts on everything from children’s games (¥60 off every order over ¥200), to name-brand goods, such as a Swiss MSTRE watch slashed from ¥1,450 to ¥368, and free delivery for Kindle Paperwhite purchases. The company has also offered discounts in the run-up to the big day. Starting from November 4, customers have been able to choose from a number of bargains on 20,000 products, including Kindle Paperwhite for same-day delivery. Another 30,000 products are available for discounts of ¥80 for every ¥300 spent, with “more wildly happy deals” on November 11.

Though sky-high sales on 11/11 are a given in China, at least one company is looking beyond China’s borders to international sales. Taobao.com, the country’s larges online retailer, is reaching out to foreign buyers with a section in English that explains, step-by-step, how to register with Taobao and use the service to take advantage of over “800 million products” that can be purchased by Visa, MasterCard and JCB credit cards.

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E-Commerce, Tech