It’s Singles’ Day: Everything you need to know about China’s online shopping extravaganza

·3-min read
Alibaba hosts a event, often with star performers, for its annual November 11 shopping festival (PR for Alibaba)
Alibaba hosts a event, often with star performers, for its annual November 11 shopping festival (PR for Alibaba)

November 11 has become an important calendar date for thousands of shoppers and retailers. It is now known for being when one of the world’s biggest online shopping festivals is held.

Known as ‘Singles’ Day’ festival, the event was launched in 2009 by Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group.

More than a decade later and the day has evolved to be spread out this year between two windows, November 1-3 and the main November 11 event. Some 290,000 brands will take part, including plenty from the UK.

Here we look at the history of the shopping spree day, how Alibaba has prepared for supply chain issues, and what presence British firms have at the festival.

What is the history of Singles’ Day?

November 11 was supposedly chosen because the four 1s in the date 11.11 represented singles.

David Lloyd, general manager UK, Netherlands and Nordics at Alibaba, says the day, also known as Double 11, has long been known as a popular alternative to Valentine’s Day when people started buying themselves gifts and holding parties to gather with other single friends.

Alibaba started the shopping festival in 2009 aimed at raising awareness of buying goods online in China, while also giving a sales lift to independent retailers selling on Tmall, a B2C website in China.

How big is the shopping extravaganza?

At last year’s 11-day festival Alibaba saw the gross merchandise volume reach RMB498.2 billion (£57.7 billion), up 26% on 2019.

In previous years there have been live performances on November 11 to celebrate the discounting day. Singers such as Katy Perry have taken part in the past.

Alibaba hosts the Singles’ Day retail event (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Alibaba hosts the Singles’ Day retail event (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

What is on offer?

As well as participants being able to give discounts on goods, Alibaba’s Lloyd says some businesses also use Singles’ Day as an opportunity to unveil and launch new products.

Are UK firms involved?

Lloyd says that last year more than 1,300 British brands participated in the 11.11 festival.

He lists a number of companies, including The Body Shop, athleisure retailer Sweaty Betty and Brentford-based Teapigs.

He adds that this year Alibaba launched the 11.11 ‘Go Global Pitch Fest’ in the UK and Ireland. It is an initiative that aims to help brands expand their business globally by fast-tracking them into the China market.

The company will work to help them expand in China, offering marketing advice. Firms were given a livestream tutorial on how best to promote products on November 11.

There were 11 finalists including vitamins firm Vitl and skincare brand Solv.

Lloyd says: “Demand for products from international brands, particularly from the UK, has remained resilient in the China market and in fact grown over the course of the past year. From health and wellness to beauty and food and beverage, Chinese consumers hold ‘Brand Britain’ in extremely high regard for its quality and heritage.”

Any headaches the event could face in 2021?

There are well documented issues in supply chains that retailers are grappling with, including shipping delays, and in the UK there have been lorry driver shortages.

Alibaba’s Lloyd says: “Obviously supply chain issues are impacting brands globally at the moment.”

But he adds that his employer has been working with brands to prepare for the expected high customer demand, including making sure they have the right levels of stock in place.

He adds: “Whilst no-one is completely immune from these macro challenges impacting global retail right now, we are confident that the brands that sell with us are well-prepared and any potential consumer disruption will be minimised.”

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