China’s Singles Day – a closer look at the biggest consumption fest on earth

Author: Peter Chen

Last Friday, an image shared in my WeChat group chat grabbed my attention as I was in the middle of catching up on the tweets published by President Trump during his visit to China.


 

The Cambridge Company Satchel Company’s sales page.
 

The image above was shared by one of my friends, a screengrab of The Cambridge Satchel Company sales section in connection with the biggest shopping holiday in China. The writing is pretty small but if you look closely you’ll find some remarkable price drops.

Normally retailing at on average 1,500 CNY (approximately 170 GBP) they had been reduced to as little as 94 CNY (approximately 10 GBP). Significantly more than the 30% discount advertised and without a doubt the most substantial price reduction that I’ve ever seen!

Needless to say, I instantly added a handful of bags to my shopping cart but, much to my disappointment, they were all sold out by the time I got to the check-out. Meanwhile, some of my friends had managed to get hold of up to ten bags. I felt that I was owed at least half a dozen designer satchels for having been made to read President Trump’s  tweets.

At the time of writing, there is still no official explanation behind the steep price drop. Because, although there are most certainly some very happy customers boasting about their bargain finds, it’s unlikely The Cambridge Satchel Company intended to give their bags away for next to nothing.

So, what is the biggest shopping holiday in China? Contrary to common assumption, it’s not the New Year or the Spring Festival but Singles Day, which takes place on the 11th November each year. Initially a festival celebrating bachelors and single as a relationship status, it has now become the most important 24 hour shopping fest on the planet.

In the first nine hours alone, total sales on China’s most popular shopping site, Tmall.com, had reached 10 billion CNY (approximately 67 million GBP). As the day came to an end, 1.38 billion packages had been wrapped and the total online transaction value across all shopping sites in China had reached 253.97 billion CNY (approximately  17 billion GBP) (link). That’s almost three times the US’ spend during last year’s Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined (link).

 

 

Shoppers have already been told to expect deliveries to be delayed due to the surge in orders.
 

A quick scan through the mentions on China’s most popular social platform, Sina Weibo, shows that most were neutral in tone with users typically sharing how much they spent, what they purchased and the best deals available. Meanwhile, most of the positive mentions were generated by shoppers thrilled to find money-saving deals and sharing the excitement about securing items before they sold out, for example by adding them in the shopping cart before the sales went live at midnight. Negative mentions emerged as consumers expressed concerns about delivery times and so called special offers items that were in fact the same price as normal.

 

 


Sentiment breakdown for conversations about Singles Day on Sina Weibo.

Following the shopping fest, users of the app version of Tmall.com were able to see a personal breakdown of how much they spent on the day, the brands and categories purchased, how they rank within their neighbourhood area in terms of the number of items purchased, the total money spent in the neighbourhood area, and their personal contribution to this amount. As if this wasn’t enough, consumers can also see a list of the brands that their neighbours bought.

 

 



The Jing’an District, where I live, ranked No.10 in Shanghai for total transactions.

While this information raises a few questions about privacy and the ethics of mass consumption, the popularity of the app suggests that these would only be minor concerns, if concerns at all. For many shoppers, the competition aspect of the app was at least as important as the products bought. This serves to highlight how apps seeking to gamify offline experiences can have significant success in a crowded market and encourages people to spend more.
 

 


The number one shopper spent 800,000 CNY (approximately 92,000 GBP) on the day.

This conspicuous attitude to shopping is in contrast to the West where consumerism is commonly seen as a guilty pleasure, or even a form of therapy. Being aware of these cultural differences when conducting social listening  is crucial for brands looking to maximise their visibility in this new era of shopping holidays.

 

 


The most shopped brands in my area.

 

So, how much did I spend in the end? That shall have to remain my little secret. What I can say for certain is that there were definitely no satchels in my order summaries that day!