As we count down the days to next weekend’s Small Business Saturday (November 28, 2015), it’s worth noting that last week, on November 11, an event in China called Singles Day was, in some ways, a massive Chinese version of Small Business Saturday combined with Cyber Monday. In the way that American Express helped turn Small Business Saturday into the event it is today, China’s e-retailing and small-business focused, Alibaba, has been the driving force that turned a college campus spoof of Valentine’s Day into a sales promotion that this year generated $14.3 billion in online transactions during a 24-hour period. (The numbers in this article relate only to Singles Day sales through Alibaba channels.) Much of Alibaba’s Single Day transactions involved small businesses using its Taobao Marketplace, (somewhat like a fixed-priced, no-seller-fees eBay that makes money from merchant advertising) and Alibaba’s Tmall, a marketplace for Chinese and international businesses to sell brand named goods to consumers in China. Taobao is China’s largest online shopping destination and the 10th most visited website in the world and Tmall is #22, according to Alexa.
From “Bachelor Party” to the Woodstock of E-retailing
Singles Day began in the 1990s as a humorous alternative to Valentine’s Day dreamed up by guys (it was originally called Bachelor’s Day) who didn’t have girlfriends. The event consisted primarily of having parties and purchasing oneself a gift. (Apparently, some things are universal for college guys.)
In 2009, as a marketing promotion to encourage the use of ecommerce in China, Alibaba adopted the day (by then, for both male and female singles) and trademarked a 24-hour gift-buying event called the 11/11 Global Shopping Festival. (If you haven’t figured it out yet, the “11/11” is a reference to what Three Dog Night long-ago dubbed, “the loneliest number.” *)
And in 2009, the event’s first year, things were, indeed, lonely. Just 27 merchants participated in the first 11/11 festival, but that has changed dramatically over the past six years. How dramatically? Today, it is a major retailing and media event that features 24 hours of entertainment and a media center that looks like a NASA Mission to Mars. It’s like a nationwide 24-hour telethon to raise money for the Chinese economy by buying yourself an iPhone.
Alibaba’s incredible Singles Day e-retailing statistics (2015)
Value of purchases
$14.3 billion | Alibaba merchant sales in 24 hours
$1.4 billion | Alibaba merchant sales in first eight minutes
$5 billion | Alibaba merchant sales in first hour
14 Hours | How long it took to pass 2014’s 24-hour sales
Velocity of purchases
100 million | Orders placed in first hour
120,000 | Orders placed every minute
40,000 | Number of merchants participating in 2015
27 | (Comparison) Number of merchants participating in 2009 (first year)
69% | Alibaba’s 2015 Singles Day sales via mobile devices
43% | (Comparison) Alibaba’s 2014 Singles Day sales via mobile devices
Variety of products offered
6 million | Number of different products offered
30,000 | Number of different brands offered
25 | Number of countries where the brands originated
1.7 million | Estimated number of drivers making deliveries (many delivering on same day)
400,000 | Number of vehicles used to deliver presents
200 | Airplanes deployed to ship presents on 11/11
180,000 | Brick-and-mortar stores using an Alibaba service called “online-to-offline”
Video via Alibaba, YouTube
Alibaba wants to take Singles Day global
Alibaba President Michael Evans told Bloomberg TV that the company is focusing on attracting more U.S. retailers to China. Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma said Alibaba is considering bringing the 24-hour Singles Day event to the U.S.
Opinion: Awesome promotion but wrong day-of-the-year for a new U.S. sales promotion
No doubt, the Singles Day Global Festival would be a hit in the U.S. (where buying gifts for oneself is a year-round activity). But having it on November 11, no matter how clever the 11/11 trademarked brand is, would be a cross-cultural faux pas and marketing mistake of New Coke proportions. As November 11 is already a U.S. national holiday honoring U.S. military veterans, any appearance by Alibaba that it is trying to encroach upon one of the most patriotic days in America’s calendar would be met by a social media backlash that could set back Alibaba’s plans to assist small business merchants in the U.S.
What about 1/11? There’s always something you didn’t get at Christmas that you need a guilt-free reason to buy.
Lesson from Small Business Saturday: American Express launched the U.K. version of Small Business Saturday with a different date than in the U.S. Why? Because the holiday gift buying season in the U.S. is tied to Thanksgiving, a major national holiday in the U.S. and unofficial beginning of the holiday gift buying season. But there’s no such holiday in the U.K. In the U.K., this year’s Small Business Saturday is December 5, a date corresponding with shopping patterns there.
Bottomline: Think global. Market local.
*For those who may not pick up on that reference to Three Dog Night, our suggested anthem for future Single Days: