Since its launch in 2009, Alibaba’s Singles Day has become the world’s largest shopping event. This year it expanded to six South East Asian countries and set new sales records.
E-commerce giant Alibaba started the retail festival known as Singles’ Day in 2009 by adopting an obscure Chinese alternative holiday to Valentine’s Day. Since then sales have risen from around US$7 million to US$24.2 billion in 2017, more than double the online sales for the US Thanksgiving period, including ‘Black Friday’.
The 24-hour period of "11.11", as it is also known, demonstrates the sheer power of Chinese consumption. In 2017, Alibaba processed 1.5 billion transactions through its payment service AliPay in 2017, peaking at 256,000 transactions per second. This year, Alibaba’s sales figures came in at US$30.8 billion for the event.
Just 27 retailers were involved in the first 11.11. Now, more than 180,000 global brands are participating through Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao retail platforms with rivals establishing their own discount deals.
Singles Day demonstrates not just the unmitigated power of e-commerce in Asia, but also how analytics are being used to gain a greater understanding of consumption patterns.
But the event is far more than a chance to find bargains online. Singles Day also demonstrates Alibaba’s ‘New Retail’ model in action, merging the online and offline experience through the use of disruptive technology. As an example, 200,000 ‘mom & pop’ stores across China will be providing online sales promotions and augmented-reality based red envelopes, offering discounts at virtual ‘corner stores’, operated by Tmall.
In its 10th anniversary year, 11.11 is now part of a month-long Global Shopping Festival as pre-orders were available through Tmall since the middle of October. Not only that, a second spin-off event, geared towards smaller companies is being promoted for 12 December (or ‘12.12’).
Singles Day goes global
The footprint of Singles’ Day is expanding. For the first time it will be hosted in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam through Alibaba offshoot Lazada, capitalising on the nascent e-commerce sector in these countries. Indications are that in countries like Indonesia, the scale of e-commerce has been understated and it is already starting to eat into the profits of offline retail.
From an emerging market investor perspective, 11.11 demonstrates not just the unmitigated power of e-commerce in these regions, but also how analytics are being used to gain a greater understanding of consumption patterns.
A prime example is that Alibaba has greatly improved technology for its recommendation feeds. With planning already underway for Singles Day’s second decade, there is little sign of the juggernaut slowing down.
 Bloomberg, eMarketer, comScore, Bernstein analysis.