Mark Tanner
9 November 2016 0 Comments

Online shopping in China is immense. If you were unaware of that, there’s a good chance that your thoughts of China conjure scenes of Mao-suited men emotionlessly sorting screws in a crowded assembly line.

To get an appreciation of the scale of ecommerce in China, we only need to look at the 9.9 billion cardboard boxes and 8.3 billion plastic sleeves packing online purchases in 2015.  To keep those boxes intact, over 12 metres of adhesive tape was used for every woman, man and child in China – almost 17 billion metres of it – enough to tape up the equator 425 times.

If you’re still not impressed, try honing in on one day in particular – November 11.  Over 3% of the value of products sold on Alibaba’s retail platforms last year were concentrated into that 24 hour period.

Singles’ Day, Double-11 or 11-11 is the lion in China’s online jungle – a lion that keeps growing bigger and roaring loader.  Last year, many predicted the world’s biggest online shopping day had reached saturation point, with previous mouth-watering growth rates too high to be sustained.  Alibaba proved them wrong, transacting sales of $14.3 billion over the day – 55% more than 2014.

Alibaba’s secret sauce has been to continue to make their big day more innovative and exciting than the last, keeping it engaging for a Chinese population who tend to bore quickly.  Last year they created a carnival atmosphere much akin to the Lunar New Year Festival, reaching an even wider audience through a TV gala preceding the shopping festival. Celebrities such as Daniel Craig (of James Bond fame) and a host of local stars drew 100 million viewers to their TVs.

This year’s gala makes last year’s look blah.  As the strike of midnight inches closer, who better than Katy Perry, China’s favourite basketballer Kobe Bryant, US pop-rock band OneRepublic, and other sports stars, musicians and actors to power a four-hour gala counting down to November 11. It will be put together by Hollywood producer David Hill, known for his work on the Oscars, NFL Super Bowls and American Idol.  The international line up of stars stays true to previous Singles’ Day’s global focus, with an expected 40,000 international merchants participating this year.

Yet the TV/streaming extravaganza goes far beyond a few stars on the tube.  There’ll be interactive spots encouraging the audience shake their phones to win prizes, and a “choose your own adventure” feature where viewers can vote to decide how some segments of the gala play out.

Pokemon Go-inspired augmented reality will encourage consumers to chase Tmall’s cat mascot around online and offline environments to win prizes from merchants such as Shanghai Disneyland and Starbucks.  150,000 VR headsets have been available for ¥0.01 (well under 1 cent) each to allow virtual shopping in stores. 60,000 real-life retailers are integrating an o2o shopping experience in stores such as Uniqlo, Gap and Alibaba’s own Suning and Intime.  Interestingly, that’s just a third of the 180,000 who participated last year.

So will Singles’ Day ’16 be even bigger than last year?  We think there’s no doubt – but with a small footnote.  Although sales could soar into the twenties-of-billions-of-dollars, it is a bit of a stretch to claim the sales are all happening over a 24-hour period as consumers have been able to ‘reserve’ products since October 21. Clothing and accessories bought at the interactive “See Now Buy Now” live streamed fashion show as part of the Shanghai Fashion Festival on October 23 will also feed into the Singles’ Day figures.  Regardless, it is bringing a new level of excitement to online shopping.

Talking about Alibaba being the Amazon and eBay of China is like that naïve vision of Mao suits and screw sorters.  The way Alibaba has transformed online shopping and the hubbub that follows is representative of just how far China has come.

For brands participating in Singles’ Day, it can cost a lot without any real results.  But done well, it can reach a legion of new customers who could be with you for years.   China Skinny can assist with that.  For those participating in the Singles’ Day festivities, we hope you enjoy the show and find yourself some good deals! Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.

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