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Ecommerce lessons from Singles Day: How to plan next year’s holiday outreach


4 minute read

What originally began as a joke of a holiday on a Chinese university campus on 11/11 (because the number 1 resembles a lonely man), has now become “Singles Day,” the biggest ecommerce shopping day of the year in the world – even outpacing Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

In 2009, Alibaba decided to try to capitalize on this cultural phenomenon and has now transformed it into a multi-billion dollar sales and marketing opportunity. This year, Singles Day shoppers spent $38 billion, $13 billion of that in just the first hour of the sale. The total sales of the 24-hour holiday were more than double 2019’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales combined.

But how can other retailers take advantage of the ever booming Singles Day when planning their holiday shopping outreach?

Where there’s a sale, shoppers will spend

In its simplest application, you could integrate an actual Singles Day promotion into your holiday shopping outreach schedule. It can be beneficial to consider niche holidays from different cultures, particularly China, as their economies grow, and more and more of the population join the middle class. Most US companies tend only to celebrate mainstream holidays, and so you’ll have the ability to stand out, highlighting an alternative holiday. The October to mid-November time of year tends to have a pretty big lull while people wait for the big deals around Black Friday, so Single’s Day can help boost sales during that slow period.

Additionally, some holidays like Black Friday and Columbus Day are starting to be associated with negative emotions and might be going out of style.

REI closed its stores on Black Friday as part of their #OptOutside campaign to encourage people to spend the day outside in nature and discourage them from filling their holiday weekend with more unnecessary shopping.

And in 2013, the famed college party card game, Cards Against Humanity, actually raised the price of their product by $5 as a protest to the consumerism of the Black Friday holiday – – and yet, the game remained the number one selling card game on Amazon.

It might be a risky bet to do something similar unless you really know your core demographic well. But that anti-consumerism sentiment against Black Friday is there, and it’s steadily growing. 

The one caution about celebrating Singles Day on the official Chinese holiday date of 11/11 is that it just so happens to be Veterans Day in the US as well. So if you typically do something to commemorate Veterans Day and neglect to do that in favor of a “foreign” holiday, it might create some unpatriotic backlash.

Singles Day sentiment throughout the holidays

On a subtler side, let’s explore what the spirit of a holiday like “Singles Day” is and consider how that might be integrated into the existing shopping holidays. 

China does have a unique demography to take advantage of this holiday as they have such a large gender imbalance, 33 million more men than women, meaning that millions of men will inevitably be single every holiday. But singledom is increasingly become something to celebrate in US culture, too. Singles Day is  uniquely different from a holiday like Christmas as its an inherently selfish holiday. Shoppers are specifically buying for themselves, rather than buying gifts for family and friends. But statistics show that while this holiday has been targeted to “singles” in name, people of all relationship statuses take advantage of the opportunity to “treat yoself.” 

Consider the side effects of “cuffing season”

The US doesn’t have much of a nationwide gender imbalance, but there are cities such as El Paso, TX, who have 27.3% more women or Santa Clara, CA, with 16.7% more men. Singleness isn’t so taboo in the US anymore, and more and more people are delaying marriage and serious relationships until later to focus on their careers. So with that in mind, you may consider balancing out any couple-assumed, gift-giving marketing and imagery with messaging that also appeals to single people.

What about self-care?

You might also consider the reality of many middle class adults, getting to the point in their life where Christmas gift-giving doesn’t seem to be really relevant because they’ve already bought what they want throughout the year; or they have very few people of gift-giving age in their family to give a gift. A Singles Day inspired promotion may give these people permission to truly indulge themselves around the holidays. Of course you wouldn’t want to promote it at the expense of gift giving, but if you’re a married dad of two kids under the age of 12, you know your gifts are likely going to consist of a piece of clothing from your partner, a Bluray of a Pixar movie and some funny socks. Considering that, it’s okay to indulge yourself while you’re treating your family.

There might be an aversion to explicitly putting self-focused marketing in holiday ads because, in the US, it’s supposed to be a very giving focused holiday, but who’s really kidding themselves when they wake up at 4 am to stand outside of Target just for gifts. We all know that 55″ 4K TV or new computer might be more for you than your partner. So rather than promoting this attitude in the context of selfishness, we can use the self-love/self-care movement and consider the fact that this could be regarded as a good thing to shop for yourself in addition to buying for others, rather than a shameful thing.

In the US, this won’t make or break your holiday season. Still, as Singles Day continues to overtake and traditional Black Friday/Cyber Monday, merchants eye the holiday with increasing jealousy. And this means we’ll see much more adoption and popularization, and so it may be time to consider how this shopping holiday might fit best into your retail business.

Mark Lewis
Mark Lewis
Mark has worked in the ecommerce industry for over a decade and is the founder and CTO of Netalico Commerce.
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