The World’s Biggest Online Shopping Day – Singles Day!

In an increasingly connected world, it’s becoming progressively more prevalent that traditions, such as holidays, are crossing borders. Typically, these holidays have come from the West but increasingly Eastern traditions are filtering into Western life including in the UK.


Singles Day started life in China as an obscure holiday in the 90s, with single males studying at Nanjing University celebrating their singlehood by self-gifting. The 11th November was chosen because when written numerically (11/11), it displays all ones – this number representing an individual who is alone. Singles Day was, and still is, particularly popular amongst young Chinese people, who are proud to be single. Singles Day is often considered a counter to the more well-known Valentine’s Day.


Often, holidays are brought into the commercial sphere when retailers and brand owners identify an opportunity to manufacture demand and provide deals that entice consumers to spend – justification for out of the ordinary spending. And consumers cannot get enough of it, whether it’s Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Halloween, we all love a reason to spend, especially when there is a bargain to be had. Singles day in particular is a great candidate for this, particularly considering its roots are founded on the concept of self-gifting and indulgence.

Back in 2009, e-commerce company Alibaba (owners of T-mall, a retailer) spotted this emerging holiday and soon enough they were turning it into the Chinese phenomenon it is today – a one-day online sales extravaganza smashing the Western equivalent ‘Cyber Monday’. Last year, sales were over 6 times that of Cyber Monday!


The growth of Singles Day in China has been assisted by expanding wealth with a growing thirst for buying into a more globalised, consumer lifestyle. Chinese consumers are increasingly looking for greater quality and Britain is well known for this, including baby care and food. British retailers are already benefitting from this thirst – Sainsbury’s and M&S have been exporting a number of products to China in recent years for the holiday.


Alibaba are aiming high, riding off the increasing buzz around this holiday. Importantly, they recognise that consumers don’t just want deals – to fully buy into the event, they expect ‘experience’. Alibaba are putting on a ‘glamour countdown’ being brought to life by Mr David Hill (co-producer of The X Factor and American Idol), the whole event being referred to as a ‘festival’. They are planning to roll out new activities such as virtual fashion shows and augmented-reality games to entice shoppers, pushing the boundaries of technology in retail. Partnerships with global brands such as Macy’s and P&G will be testing out ‘Buy + VR’ service; this service transports customers into the retail environment. They’re also using technology to help ease the demand of high website traffic when the sales kick off, by enabling customers to pre-load products into their digital shopping carts, which will then be processed as soon as the discount price kicks in.


Alibaba is expecting big things from 2016 and beyond for Singles Day, opening up its online offer into South-East Asia this year, and globally for 2017. This year, Katy Perry is the global ambassador, proving they are heavily investing.

Other retailers have spotted this emerging holiday, and many are beginning to invest – with a potential explosion onto British shores likely, not too dissimilar to Black Friday. This holiday is particularly apt for retailers and brands who traditionally target the Tinder Generation who are most likely to be single. However there is potential for the promotions to appeal to all. Single status is not exclusive to the young, with 16% of those aged 55-64 in the UK reporting that they are ‘single’, and this excludes those who are widowed, divorced or separated. And regardless of relationship status, older generations hold the most disposable income, so they are likely to be actively participating in Singles Day this year and beyond. Ciara McCabe, Consumer Insight Manager for EMEA at Kerry, discusses the value of the ‘Seniors’ consumers here. (

The timing is perfect. By 11th November (the date of Singles Day), shoppers are already ‘Christmas conscious’ and many are already buying gifts. This is an opportunity to take the heat out of Black Friday (25th Nov) and Cyber Monday (28th Nov), which occurs only a few weeks after Singles Day.

It is likely that this year won’t be when Singles Day achieves its peak reach or sales in the UK, but brands and retailers are beginning to prepare. It is important to remember, that the rise of Singles Day not only impacts on retail in the UK, but offers international brands and retailers the opportunity to export into China, which is currently the way to make the biggest profit from the day due to the size of the market.



Black Friday is evidence that these new commercial holidays really can take off in the UK, and when they do it’s fast. Brands and retailers can choose whether or not to take part, but ultimately if they do, they need to be quick and they need to be prepared. Some may be resistant to accept another discounting event to the retail calendar. Others who do not offer an online channel may be largely unaffected if the Singles Day discounts remain online only. The biggest winners will be those who are proactive rather than reactive to this upcoming commercial holiday.


Singles Day was once again a roaring success, with sales up on last year (as predicted). Alibaba hit £1 billion worth of orders in the first 5 minutes of trading, and total sales were $17.8 billion – head and shoulders above Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.  Due to a family emergency, Katy Perry did not playing a starring role on the day, but fear not as David Beckham was drafted in to bring some celebrity glamour to the day. International brands continued to sign onto the biggest online shopping day, highly valuing exposure to the Chinese (and more generally the Asian) markets. Heavyweight brands such as Apple, Burberry and Victoria’s Secret all made their debut this year. It seems like Singles Day is only just hotting up, I can’t wait to see what happens in 2017!

Becca Allen is a Research Manager in the retail & customer experience team.

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Becca Allen
01962 842211
Article date - 07/11/2016
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