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China’s Singles Day breaks sales records in 2017

November 11 marked Singles Day, the Chinese holiday jokingly coined for the four consecutive ones (“the loneliest number”) in the date. It originated as a response to social pressures in Chinese culture to be in a relationship. Back in 2009, Alibaba was the first retail company to launch a Singles Day sale, and since then it has become one of the biggest shopping days in the world, and the largest e-commerce event.

On Saturday, 140,000 brands on Alibaba’s sites offered substantial discounts on all kinds of products, from designer handbags to groceries.  Singles Day is no longer just for the singletons; brands want everyone to treat themselves.

This year, Singles Day sales smashed previous records, bringing in over $25.4 billion and surpassing sales figures for Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.  “This is a big event for China, for the Chinese economy,” says Alibaba co-founder Joseph Tsai. “On Singles Day, shopping is a sport — it’s entertainment.”

This year’s event included 100,000 “smart store” physical locations around the country, in which customers were able to browse items in real life before then buying them online, contributing to Alibaba’s total sales for the day.

Singles Day was expected to break records this year, although perhaps not quite to this extent. In its annual Lightspeed survey, Kantar found that 44 per cent of consumers intended to spend more money than they did on Singles Day last year, with spending budgets ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 yuan. A very small portion of consumers who took part in the survey had saved up more than 10,000 yuan to spend on “11.11 deals.”

Apparel is the hottest category, with 71 per cent of respondents expressing interest, followed by shoes at 51 per cent, while household goods, personal care prducts and cosmetics are the three most popular FMCG categories. The most mentioned e-commerce brands in the survey were Tmall (76 per cent), Taobao (63 per cent) and JD.com (57 per cent). JD.com accounted for 20 per cent of total Singles Day purchases last year.

A common theme this year is that of consumers using Singles Day as an opportunity to try out premium brands which they might not otherwise be able to afford — 60 per cent of respondents said they would be trying out products by brands they have previously found cost-prohibitive. Moving forward, this presents an opportunity for premium brands to introduce more accessible offers over Singles Day, with a view to bringing in more customers and retaining that loyalty. And speaking of loyalty; 51 per cent say they will continue to purchase their favourite brands on Singles Day.

Singles Day is a unique example of how China’s emerging middle class is driving growth in the retail sector, with an increasing level of disposable income across more than 300 million consumers. “This powerful group is propelling consumption in China,” says Tsai.

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