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November 11, 2016

What is Singles Day? As Alibaba breaks sales records, here’s your guide to the worlds biggest shopping event

Alibaba is on track to smash last year's Singles Day sales figures, already raking in $12.1 billion in the first 12 hours.

By Ellie Burns

Singles Day, or Guanggun Jie, is a day where Chinese people celebrate that they are proud of being single. The day is so named because of how the date 11/11, repeats the individual ‘alone’ number one, with its literal Chinese translation meaning ‘bare sticks holiday.’

Although first emerging as a celebration of single life in 1993 at Nanjing University, it is now more widely known as the world’s biggest shopping event and signals the start of the shopping season with Cyber Monday and Black Friday following in late November.

As more people joined in the celebration of Singles Day and used the event as a day of treating themselves, Chinese companies started seeing the day as a chance to target young consumers – in particular Alibaba who trademarked the term “双十一” which means Double 11.

In 2009, Alibaba launched a massive marketing campaign to lure Singles Day consumers to spend money, offering special ‘Double 11’ deals. As e-commerce exploded in China, Singles Day became a day where Alibaba raked in billions – and with China boasting the largest e-commerce market in the world, forecast to hit $1.1 trillion by 2020, Singles Day is just going to get larger year-on-year.

Tmall.com Singles Day

Tmall is one Alibaba’s lucrative ecommerce platforms used on Singles Day.

In 2015, Alibaba raked in $5 billion in the first 90 minutes of its sale, using its shopping platforms Taobao.com and Tmall.com to generate $14.3 billion in just 24 hours. When you compare this to the $1.35 billion taken on Black Friday, you start to see the full scale of Singles Day.

This year, Alibaba looks set to demolish all sales records set before. 12 hours into the 2016 e-commerce extravaganza, sales had hit $12.1 billion – already on track to smash last year’s total of $14.3 billion. While it took Alibaba to hit the $5 billion milestone in 2015, this year they broke the $5 billion barrier in the first hour alone. Twelve hours into the event and reports were that the Chinese giant had clocked $12 billion worth of gross merchandise volume – with all the numbers pointing to the fact that Alibaba is on track to set new records for the 2016 Singles Day.

Chinese e-commerce firms have had to adapt quickly to the 600 million internet users in China, with Chinese retail sites having to up their game in order to cash in on Singles Day. Their response has seen Chinese companies outperform the global competition, with an average time of 3.4 seconds before their websites become usable for Chinese customers (compared to 7.7 seconds for global retailers). According to Dynatrace, lean website design is a key component of success on Singles Day:

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“We know that user experience is fundamental to e-commerce success today, so retailers must be ready to tackle new markets with a localised site strategy. You can’t just replicate a site from another country, attach a local URL and assume it will work. This is especially the case in China,” said  Dave Anderson, VP Marketing EMEA and APAC for Dynatrace

“Many of us know that the more obvious site plug-ins like Facebook and Pinterest are not supported in China but there’s many other technical components that may create performance issues. You need to be careful about how you use Google APIs, YouTube, marketing automation software or cart abandonment tools. Big images, video and pop up ads also create complexity that result in a poor experience for Chinese consumers. Best starting point is to strip the site back and measure the performance of everything very closely.”

There are certainly lessons to be learned from non-Chinese retailers who look to make profits on other e-commerce events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. One firm which stood out in the Dynatrace research was H&M, with an average time of just 2.4 seconds before customers could start interacting with its website from China. Those retailers looking to cash in on Cyber Monday and Black Friday must learn from the challenges and successes of this year’s Singles Day, as Couchbase’s Perry Krug told CBR:

“As the first and biggest online sales event of the season, Singles Day can offer lessons to Western ecommerce companies as they ramp up their Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas preparations. Any challenges facing Singles Day will be felt by our retailers too, so they would do well to study any successes or failures to prevent the same thing happening at the end of the month.

“Make no mistake, this is the single biggest feat of data logistics of all time – a remarkable demonstration of what the digital economy can achieve. Created in and for the internet era, Alibaba will be expecting to process £11bn plus in online sales this Singles Day. This is the equivalent of every person on the planet going online and spending £1.50.”

Also on CBR: ‘Data is power’: Is big data Alibaba’s secret weapon in global cloud race?

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