The world’s largest online shopping holiday is upon us, and it’s not Black Friday.
China’s annual shopping gala, Singles Day, kicks off when the clocks strike midnight local time on Saturday (Nov. 11). First started as a university event nine years ago by Alibaba, it has become an annual 24-hour online shopping marathon across the country.
During last year’s Singles Day, Alibaba alone racked up almost $18 billion in sales, dwarfing Cyber Monday ($3.4 billion) and Black Friday ($3.34 billion) combined.
But as with many things in China, understanding how to navigate the holiday can be tricky. Here’s our guide on getting the most out of the shopping bonanza, sourced from the e-commerce giants’ shopping guidelines as well as tips from Chinese social media.
More than Alibaba
Singles Day used to be all about Tmall and Taobao, both Alibaba properties. But the immense success of this made-up holiday has lured many other players, including Amazon’s Chinese site; China’s second-largest online shopping site, JD.com; flash-sales site VIP.com; and tech giant Netease’s shopping site, you.163.com.
Check if they’re actually deals
Chinese authorities have cracked down on false advertising for Singles Day in the past. But it’s worth it to do your own due diligence so you know the deals you’re about to pull the trigger on are actually deals.
You can compare prices on China’s most popular shopping sites using manmanbuy.com, and smzdm.com. You can also paste product page urls into xitie.com to see the historical prices of specific products. Be prepared to rely heavily on Google Translate if you don’t read Chinese.
Learn the complicated rules
Looking for the best deals has gotten more complicated over the years. To play by the rules of Chinese shopping sites, you should get acquainted with the following terms and how they work:
- Pre-orders: You can pay a deposit in advance to get lower prices later. Retailers are fond of this type of deal because it affords them time to calculate and prepare inventory in advance. However, note such pre-orders can’t be canceled, which means you risk losing your deposit if you decide not to pay remainder on Nov. 11.
- Coupons: You can purchase coupons to get lower prices. Unlike pre-orders, the upfront payment is typically much smaller and the terms can be a bit more complex. For example (link in Chinese), you might pay 9.9 yuan to purchase a coupon that lets you deduct 100 yuan from an order totaling 999 yuan. As always, it’s important to read the fine print, which might specify the types of goods the coupon applies to, as well as specified colors and models covered by the deal.
- Red envelopes: You can enter a lottery to win “cash.” Though the retailers call it cash, it’s not actual money in your pocket but rather credits that can be applied to your Singles Day shopping carts. For example, Taobao and Tmall have offered lucky-draw “red envelopes” from Oct. 20 to Nov. 11, with rewards ranging from 0.5 yuan to 1,111 yuan. To participate in Taobao and Tmall’s luck draws, users must have an Alipay account (link in Chinese) that’s registered with their real names and connected to their Taobao accounts.
Beat other shoppers to the checkout
With so many people rushing to snag the best deals, there’s huge traffic loads on shopping websites on Singles Day, especially during the first few minutes after midnight.
To increase your chances of checking out before items disappear, you should fire up multiple tabs on your browser and log into your accounts ahead of time. A Chinese shopaholic who spoke to Quartz ahead of last year’s bonanza said that generally desktop sites are more stable compared with shopping on a mobile phone. She would also fill up her various online shopping carts ahead of midnight to help her check out quickly.
Delivery times are getting shorter
Previous years’ Singles Days were followed by long wait times for their deliveries due to so many orders. This year, e-commerce companies are hoping to reduce the lag. For example, JD has partnered with China’s Walmart stores, which act as JD’s city warehouses, so couriers can pick up and deliver items from nearby Walmart stores to customers.
There are always more deals
Don’t worry even if you miss the best deals on Singles Day. Chinese companies have managed to commercialize many other days. Though the weeks leading up to Christmas isn’t known for its deals, the next major shopping days are International Women’s Day in March and 618 (June 18), which was started by JD but other retailers have since followed suit by offering deals on the day.