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11.11 Singles Day sets new record – as you’d expect…

Alibaba’s 11.11 Singles Day shopping event predictably set another new record over the weekend, with US$25.3 billion GMV processed – 39 per cent more than last year.

But while the figure is impressive, was anybody really surprised? It’s hard to avoid the reality that this event is little more than a meticulously planned publicity stunt which has ballooned to the point the numbers are losing their shock value.

And let’s face it – much of the sales volume had little or nothing to do with 11.11 anyway. While a lot of the 10 billion yuan spent in the first three minutes after midnight across Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms (it took six minutes to reach that milestone last year) can likely be attributed to people chasing bargains for items with limited stock, the broader figure encompasses a massive number of orders lodged in the weeks leading up to Saturday which were actually processed on the day, instead of at the time of order.

Nowhere in Alibaba’s data is there a reference to how much was actually bought on the day – as opposed to simply being paid for. A further illustration is that last year’s figure of $17.8 billion was reached in 13 hours. In the 11 ensuing hours – on a Saturday afternoon when you’d think people had more time to shop – spending fell to $7.5 billion. That equates to $680 million an hour in the final 11 hours compared with $1.37 billion an hour in the first 13, which included the period midnight through to 6am when most Chinese were asleep in bed…

We have yet to see sales breakdowns by category for this year, but last year more than 100,000 motor vehicles were sold during 11.11 Singles Day, ranging from Maserati sportscars to 13,000 local Chery runabouts. Few people pop online to buy a car on a whim – those are carefully researched, calculated purchases with settlements deferred until a 24-hour window to take advantage of a special deal.

Rival, was a little more transparent in its figures, reporting $19.14 billion sales for the event, including transactions during the 11-day run-up. That was 50 per cent more than last year.

By no means should our comments be seen as a criticism of the 11.11 Singles Day concept: it is smart marketing, well planned, well executed, and merging digital technology with an ambitious logistics solution and seemingly infallible cloud-based processing of orders and payments.

One of the most-touted statistics this year was that 90 per cent of sales were conducted using mobile devices – but again, should that be a surprise? It was Saturday, after all, and how many of those shoppers were responding to emails or messages received on their phones reminding them to take to check-out something already in their shopping cart or on their wish list.

Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang perhaps summed up the real meaning of 11.11 Singles Day – beyond the $25 billion headline figure:  “It represents the aspiration for quality consumption of the Chinese consumer, and it reflects how merchants and consumers alike have now fully embraced the integration of online and offline retail.”

For the record, Singles Day 2017 featured more than 140,000 participating brands and merchants – 60,000 of them international, rather than Chinese – with 1.48 billion payment transactions (up 41 per cent). At peak, that worked out at a staggering 256,000 transactions per second.  Shoppers came from all over the world – 225 countries and regions.

Riding the coattails

This year, more than in the previous seven Singles Day events – it was not only about Alibaba. Rival online retailers, like, took the opportunity like never before to cash in on the near hysteria, pushing their own deals.

And Alibaba-controlled Lazada created its rival Online Revolution mega-sale, launched with a 90-minute televised show in Thailand which encourage 150,000 new downloads of the Lazada shopping app.  While no actual spending figures were released, the company said three times as many items sold in the first 60 seconds this year compared with last year. But mobile devices were used for just under 80 per cent of purchases.

Lazada’s group chief marketing officer Charles Debonneuil said the inaugural TV programme underscored the synergy and sharing of ideas between Lazada and its parent company Alibaba.

“Shopping doesn’t have to be boring. By mixing entertainment with shopping we wanted to create a more engaging and enriching experience for the young generation of shoppers we cater to throughout Southeast Asia. We have been overwhelmed by the amazing feedback received from our customers.”

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