SINGLES DAY 101: What is 11.11 and why you will keep hearing about it

Tonight is the night all of China doesn’t sleep. Tonight is the night we’ve been waiting for the whole year. Tonight is the night we stay in the office until midnight to get faster internet. Tonight is the night. What am I talking about? The world’s biggest online shopping event is upon us, my friend, and no, it’s not Cyber Monday or even Black Friday. Unless you live in China, you probably don’t hear much about November 11th “Singles Day,” or “Double Eleven.” It is the largest so-called “shopping festival” of the year in China and the largest shopping event of the year in the world.

Originally started by Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall as a social campaign, now it is a shopping frenzy that takes over the entire country, lasts almost a month and covers most e-commerce websites and even offline locations.

Even I myself may or may not have fallen victim of everyone’s excitement over Double Eleven and had my shopping carts filled with Korean skincare ready for checkout over three weeks ago. Who am I fooling, I totally had.


Origins of Double Eleven and different motivations for online shopping in China vs. the West

Double Eleven or Singles Day started off as a social media campaign for single people to treat themselves to something nice, a sweet gift for yourself beloved. Since you didn’t get spoiled by your non-existing lovey on the Valentine’s Day, Singles Day was your time to shine. The main motivation for shopping is an indulgence and treating yourself. Shopping holidays in China also aren’t tied to any particular social events, like Christmas or New Year. Double Eleven is a “made-up” stand-alone holiday, that now grew into a social phenomenon.

On the other hand, in the West sales seasons are closely tied to events like Christmas, New Year, and Easter. And the main motivation behind shopping is gift-giving and spoiling your loved ones rather than spoiling yourself.


How do shopping holidays like 11.11 shape consumer buying behavior?

Obviously, consumers love shopping festivals because they can get amazing deals. Following Alibaba’s success with Double Eleven, other shopping platforms have launched their annual shopping holidays. For instance, (largest e-commerce website in China after Tmall and Taobao) has “618” for June 18th, has “818” for August 18th, VIPshop has “128” for December 18th and other smaller ones. So, now consumers are getting increasingly spoiled with the seemingly never-ending shopping holidays with discounted items in every category. Beyond annual shopping holidays, there are also shopping seasons around International Women’s’ Day and Valentine’s Day, where brands again fight for consumer’s wallet share with deep discounts.

Consumers are evolving

With an increasing online shopping frequency, Chinese consumers are very active and shop online almost on a daily basis. At the same time, shopping behaviors are evolving. Consumers from Tier 1 cities (think Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou) are becoming more and more rational about their spending and are less influenced by discounts, while consumers in Tier 2 cities (think Wuhan, Chongqing, Nanjing) and below are still very rash in their purchasing decisions.

Brands are evolving

Brands are also evolving their marketing strategies, as shopping holidays are becoming more and more widespread. Previously 11.11 was only about price promotions and discounts, however as more and more brands started to participate in the festival, discounts alone became not enough to capture attention during this madly competitive time. On top of that, brands don’t want to devalue themselves and give too deep of discounts. So, now we can see more sophisticated brand interactions and marketing strategies around the event.

As an example, Ctrip, a popular travel booking website, and app in China cannot afford very deep discounts in the already tough-to-be-in tourism industry. So instead of deepening discounts and cutting their bottom line, they attract consumers by providing additional value to the travelers. Throwing in add-ons like free airport pick-up, free hotel upgrades, free wifi on the plane and such does the trick.

Festival itself is evolving

Double Eleven itself has evolved from being just a simple and straightforward 24-hour long promotion over November 11th to an almost a month-long event. Consumers can interact with brands in a more meaningful way, and also shop over a longer period of time. Consumers even have an option of paying a small deposit to “secure” a deal almost a month in advance (see examples below). And brands build up the excitement with “sneak peek” sales on select items before the holiday itself.


How to Adapt Your Brand Strategy? 

E-commerce platforms see the problem with a purely price-driven promotion, so they are willing to try something new. Tmall is shifting 11.11 from a discount-centered event to more of an entertainment event focused on brand interactions. For instance, this year you could play an AR game, with a similar feel to Pokemon GO when you can walk around town picking up 红包 (hong bao or “Red Packets”) with store credits to shop at different brands.

Other cool features rolled out by Tmall include AR try-on lipstick and makeup, featuring brands like L’Oreal pioneering this initiative. These brand interactions are not directly related to the price of the product, however, they’re all launched during 11.11 in the name of the holiday.

Consumers in China are becoming more complex and sophisticated. They are looking for a brand that will surprise them, educate them, inspire them, not just give the lowest price. Shoppers also focus more on reading the reviews and finding the right product that will fit their needs rather than be sorting by price low-to-high and getting the first option.

Additionally, brands need to align all of their communication channels to have the same message. Even though 11.11 is an Alibaba (Tmall and Taobao) event, brand’s store cannot look like nothing is happening, brand’s official WeChat account should reflect the promotions. Consumers will get confused by inconsistent messaging, so make sure to speak same words across all platform during Double Eleven.


How to Attract People to Spend with the Brand Constantly?

Brands need to be working year-round to build a meaningful connection with the consumer and foster loyaltySo, when the next 11.11 comes around, consumers will come to your brand and spend with you rather than a competitor. Platforms like WeChat are ideal for cultivating a loyal following for your brand and your products, providing a more sustainable growth all year round.

Rewarding your loyal customers with deeper discounts over shopping festivals has proven effective for brands like Sephora. They have set up a loyalty program where depending on how much you’ve spent over the year and how many times you shopped at their locations, you’ll be awarded a different rank with a different discount.

Every brand offers about the same 20-30% off, so unless you can afford to give out a deeper discount, it is difficult to get attention from the consumer. So, engage with your followers, and during Double Eleven reward existing customers rather than try and get new ones. Keep in mind that Chinese consumers are also very smart and savvy account cross-checking prices across different platforms during different months, so any kind of price manipulation will not go unnoticed.


PC or mobile?

This is probably one of the most commonly asked questions: which devices are more popular when shopping online and how to adjust your marketing strategy accordingly?

We know that 82% of transactions for Tmall, Taobao, and JD happen on mobile, and people hit the “checkout” button on their smartphones more often than ever. To ride off this wave, Alibaba kick-started Double Eleven season this year with a “See now, Buy Now” fashion show. Consumers were encouraged to buy in the moment as soon as they the see the garment being shown on the catwalk, rather than adding it to the cart and then purchasing it later.


UNIQLO also hit the sweet spot of the “look at me” mentality of young Chinese consumers. The brand also understood that social interactions, especially on WeChat, are absolutely paramount to brand’s success. The Japanese brand created special fitting rooms, where you could be “teleported” to different scenic spots around the world while wearing a UNIQLO outfit and then take a photo of yourself and share it on WeChat Moments.

So, with all of these successful case studies about the usage of mobile for shopping, it’s easy to assume that we can abandon PC’s altogether and focus on mobile, right? But it’s not so simple. Because now consumers spend more time on picking the perfect product for themselves, reading comments and reviews, doing it on a larger screen is simply more convenient. Also, most of that browsing happens during the working hours, and you can’t be on your phone in front of your boss. So, even though the “checkout” moment happens on mobile in the evening when you’re back home relaxing, the picking and choosing part happens on the PC in the office.

On top of that, there is a generational difference between people born before the 80s and after 80s. For instance, when it comes to booking international travel, if you are born before 1980, chances are you’re shopping on your PC. If you’re born after 1980, you’re shopping on mobile.


Fun Stats for the Conclusion

  • Alibaba got $17.8 billion in revenues from last year’s Double Eleven
  • Cyber Monday brought in $3.4 billion
  • Black Friday made $3.3 billion

Cheers and happy shopping!


Written and edited by Anna Khegay, co-founder and CEO of iconKOL, and influencer marketing agency based in Shanghai.


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