Alibaba courts international market for Singles’ Day e-commerce event

10 Nov 2017

Singles’ Day will see customers spend billions. Image: an_chana/Shutterstock

The first Singles’ Day sale took place in 2009, and this year’s iteration looks set for massive growth.

Singles’ Day (held every 11 November) is Alibaba’s rival to alternatives such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and the Chinese e-commerce behemoth expects this year’s event to attract faster growth in international transactions compared to its domestic sales.

As a holiday, Singles’ Day began in the 1990s in Nanjing University, when four friends were discussing the pitfalls of single life and came up with the idea to create a celebratory day for people who are not in relationships.

International growth

According to the South China Morning Post, the international arm of Alibaba’s business posted a 60pc year-on-year growth in 2016, against an overall increase in sales of 32pc.

Faced with flagging interest from domestic customers, Alibaba is trying to attract global shoppers. The company still looks set to rake in a tidy profit, with CBS reporting that customers are expected to spend $23bn this year.

Compare this to US online spending on Black Friday in 2016, which totalled a mere $2.74m, or the $3bn in total sales generated on Amazon Prime Day this year.

The ‘China phenomenon’

CEO Daniel Zhang said: “It will not only be a shopping festival for [the] Chinese, but it will attract more foreigners to participate because commerce is a borderless world. We want the ‘China phenomenon’ to spread to the whole world.”

CNBC reported that more than 60,000 global brands will be participating in Singles’ Day, including Nike, Zara, Adidas and Gap.

These brands and more are all present on Alibaba’s growing Tmall platform. Tmall is basically the company’s online version of a shopping centre, but it is also in the middle of building its first physical premises right beside the global HQ in eastern China.

Alibaba has teamed up with around 50 shopping centres in China to set up physical pop-up shops across 12 of the country’s main cities.

Shopping as entertainment

Fung Global Retail and Technology managing director Deborah Weinswig said: “While Western shopping holidays such as Prime Day and Black Friday tend to focus on discounts, Alibaba takes an entertainment-centric approach to its 11.11 festival marketing and promotions in order to engage Chinese consumers.”

This so-called ‘entertainment-centric approach’ will see a countdown celebration including a performance by Pharrell Williams.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects