Asian brands planning to market themselves in China during Singles Day in 2018 have some important lessons to learn from the shopping festival's performance in 2017.

By now you may know that Alibaba’s 2017 Singles Day global merchandise value (GMV) exceeded $25.3 billion, compared to $18 billion in 2016.

But there were eight key takeaways for Asian brands...

1. Alibaba’s Singles Day Festival is still going strong

2017 Singles Day saw a total GMV increase of 39% compared to 2016, which previously saw an increase of 32% from 2015.

And that’s not all. 93% of Chinese consumers planned to shop during the 2017 Singles Day to “buy something good” i.e. imported goods beyond discounted items. These are mostly first tier consumers with a monthly household income of 20,000 RMB and born in the 1980s.

These numbers are particularly reassuring as a recent Nielsen China study stated that 45% of Chinese consumers (45%) are becoming disinterested with the overload of ecommerce or discounted sales events.

2. Easy credit sprees to match shopping sprees

Behind Singles Day is one of the world’s most sophisticated easy consumer credit and peer-to-peer infrastructures. As a virtual credit card feature within the Alipay app, Huabei (花呗, Just Spend) provides credit limits for online and offline payments to amplify the attraction of Singles Day promotions via various tactics to its largely millennial user base. 

To drive take-up rates for Singles Day pre-sale activities, Huabei raised its credit limit to almost 80% so that users could spend on average more than 2000 RMB each. After Singles Day, it also cheekily allowed users to message their Alipay friends for contributions to pay off their shopping bill!

Image via Business Insider

3. Singles Day has expanded into Southeast Asia and other countries

Total sales came from 225 countries and regions, with 40% of purchases from international brands. 167 Tmall stores saw over RMB100 million in transactions with 17 selling over RMB500 million and six reaching RMB1 billion.

Many other nationalities are also buying from China on Singles Day with Russians taking top spot this year as well as last year (stats via Campaign Asia).

Top five imported brands bought by Chinese consumers by GMV: 

  1. Swisse
  2. Aptamil
  3. Kao / Merries
  4. Moony
  5. Bio Island

Top five countries/regions selling cross-border to China by GMV:

  1. Japan
  2. United States
  3. Australia
  4. Germany
  5. Korea

Top five countries/regions buying cross-border from China by GMV: 

  1. Russia
  2. Hong Kong
  3. United States
  4. Taiwan
  5. Australia

4. Singles Day is seeing even more growth in sales on other ecommerce platforms

CNBS has reported that Lazada, Alibaba’s Southeast Asian ecommerce partner, gained over $123 million of GMV with 6.5 million items sold i.e. electronics, fashion and babywear. This is a 171% increase in GMV and 191% growth in items compared to 2016, and partly a result of Lazada’s promotions in Southeast Asia.

JD.com announced its sales from Singles' Day and its 11-day run-up reached $19.1 billion, a growth of 50% from 2016. Suning also announced $15 million in sales over the same 11-day period. 

5. Retailers need to prepare their ecommerce platform for Alipay and mobile purchases

With more than 95% of China’s internet users using their smartphones to access the Internet, 90% of the total 1.48 billion Alibaba payments were made through mobile and processed through AliPay, Alibaba’s payment gateway.

That’s an increase from last year’s 82%, and an even larger one from 69% in 2015. 

6. Fashion, household and beauty products reign while virtual products are on the rise

Chinese consumers were looking for fashion, shoes, food followed by household products, personal care and cosmetics on Alibaba. 

alibaba sales

Of special note was the boom in sales of smartphones and tablets made in China, with even the old iPhone 7 making a surprise surge in sales.

Partly due to the two-child policy, China’s millennial mother consumers also helped drive a surge in purchases for all types of baby products from foreign brands such as Friso (Friesland Campina, Dutch) and Moony (Japanese).

According to Kantar research on Singles Day, these consumers are also considering online video subscriptions, financial products, online cloud storage, tour services, hotel accommodation and plane tickets. On JD.com, Singles Day sales of outdoor travel products posted a 458% increase in sales compared to a normal business day.

7. Offline-to-online (O2O) and automation is becoming an industry practice

Suning credits its sales growth to its strategy of integrating offline stores with online shopping experiences such as pop-up unmanned stores and AI-driven delivery robots.

Alibaba also invested in its vision of “New Retail” that combines offline store experiences with ecommerce by helping over 1000 brands convert 100,000 physical locations to smart stores with 60 pop-up stores opening in 52 malls.

8. Global retailers must embrace Singles Day as the world’s premier shopping event

On Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2016, US consumers spent $3.34 billion and $3.45 billion online respectively.

Compare that to Singles Day where in just one day in Nov 2016, retailers saw $18 billion.

Getting a presence in China is more than just opening a Tmall store. A dedicated retail strategy and budget focusing on Singles 11 is now a must.

singles day stats

If you are keen to know more about ecommerce in China, please check out Econsultancy's next webinar.

Further reading:

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Published 27 November, 2017 by Kestrel Lee

Kestrel Lee is Principal Analyst, Greater China at Econsultancy

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