By now, anyone with even a passing interest in ecommerce should be familiar with Singles’ Day. The event started several years ago as a way for college students in China to celebrate their singledom—the name of the event is a reference to the date on which it’s marked, 11/11, a series of lonely number ones.
The festival was coopted by ecommerce firm Alibaba in 2009, when it first used promotional blitzes and promises of deep discounts to turn the day into an online phenomenon on its Taobao and Tmall platforms.
The company reported that it recorded sales totaling about $18 billion during the 24-hour event in 2016. For some context, consider that Black Friday online sales in the US totaled $2.74 billion the same year—about one-sixth of the sales from Singles’ Day.
Global consulting firm Oliver Wyman expects Alibaba to outdo itself again this year, projecting that sales on its ecommerce platforms will total $23 billion, a growth rate of 26% over last year.
As impressive as those figures are, they will remain a drop in the bucket of China’s overall ecommerce sector. eMarketer estimates that retail ecommerce sales in the country will total $1.133 trillion by the end of this year, and grow to $2.660 trillion come 2021.
But there are signs that consumers may be experiencing some festival fatigue. According to a recent AdMaster survey, 64% of digital buyers in China said they plan to make a purchase during the festival, down from 71% in 2016, and 84% in 2015.
The potential for waning interest in Singles’ Day hasn’t deterred Alibaba from doubling down on the event. This year, the company began its marketing offensive in October, announcing that some 140,000 brands had been recruited to participate in the festival, which Alibaba is also attempting to rebrand as the “11.11 Global Shopping Festival” lasting three weeks.
The inclusion of the word “global” is particularly interesting, since Alibaba has made no secret of the fact that it hopes to entice shoppers in Europe—and even the US—to click and take advantage of sales deals. Alibaba reports that consumers in some 200 countries participated in Singles’ Day last year.
Alibaba has made some concrete efforts to make the online purchase process easier for overseas consumers. For example, Cainiao, the logistics service that Alibaba now owns a majority stake in, has partnered with airlines to book cargo flights to European countries following Singles’ Day to shave days off of delivery dates.
Singles’ Day has also evolved beyond something that profits Alibaba alone. Competitor JD.com has also experienced spillover benefits from the festival.
This year, JD.com announced that it had partnered with Tencent, parent company of the near-ubiquitous messaging platform WeChat, to pool data about customers and users of the chat app. JD.com claims the move will help vendors target their advertising efforts. It will also allow users of WeChat Pay, the service’s digital payment platform, to take advantage of online discounts when making purchases at physical stores.