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China’s Singles' Day sellers seek long-term customer relationships

The Chinese shopping festival started by Alibaba in 2009 is chasing customer loyalty now
Sales aren't only about making sales.
Sales aren't only about making sales.
Photo: STR (Getty Images)
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The largest online shopping day is tomorrow.

No, it’s not Black Friday yet. Nope, not Boxing Day. Nuh-uh, it’s not Amazon’s Prime day either. Mark your calendars, because Nov. 11 is China’s Singles’ Day.

What started as an anti-Valentine’s day of sorts to celebrate singledom in 1993 was turned by Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma into the e-commerce giant’s flagship shopping festival in 2009. The bonanza sales day—also known as Double 11 because of the date (11/11)—now draws sellers and stars from around the world. In 2019, sales in the first 96 seconds surpassed $2 billion.

In 2020 Alibaba and its (much smaller) rival broke all records with sales surpassing $115 billion. Of course, there was one tweak: The Singles’ Day festival ran for 11 days. Even this year, Singles’ Day has actually been going on for over two weeks, but don’t expect a blockbuster performance this time around.

Charted: Alibaba’s Singles’ Day Sales so far

Singles’ Day 2022 will be muted

Last year, Singles Day posted its slowest growth ever. Things aren’t looking too bright this year either. Especially since’s June shopping festival, 618, flatlined, too.

💸 Economic growth is slow and inflation warnings abound. Chinese consumer spending, especially retail spending, has slowed.

🦠 The zero-Covid policy is stifling consumer confidence further

😳 Alibaba had to tone down the event’s marketing hype owing to regulatory scrutiny

Singles’ Day merchants are fighting for loyalty over sales

With sales failing to impress, companies and brands are trying to use the shopping extravaganza to reach and lock in customers in the long-run by offering lucrative loyalty programs.

“Loyalty winners are already emerging, propelled not just by their membership programs but by various other strengths that vary from company to company, including unique products and hard-to-match experiences,” Bain & Co noted in its Oct. 18 research. “Some online retailers are banking on rich content and community interaction to provide that sticky and distinctive consumer pull.”

What to expect from 2022 Singles Day, by the digits

34%: customers who expect to reduce their Singles Day spending this year, up from 9% last year, according to Bain & Co’s survey of 3,000 people.

69%: people who plan to shop on more than three platforms, as per Bain’s survey

27: retailers that participated in the first Singles Day in 2009

290,000: brands from around the world participating in Singles Day

100,000: new products being launched by 200 new luxury brands on TMall’s Luxury Pavillion

16.6%: Europeans who were aware of Singles Day in 2020. Germany’s Media Markt, a consumer electronics retailer, is advertising Singles’ Day with a disclaimer that discounts are “nicht nur für Singles” (not only for singles).

600%: increase in views recorded by TaoBao in the first hour of the first sales video this year, suggesting that livestreaming is still going strong without the two celebrity streamers.

People of interest: The missing Alibaba’s star livestreamer

Alibaba pioneered a kind of “shopintainment” with this festival. On Nov. 10, celebrities often feature in a countdown livestream. Taylor Swift, Mariah Carey, Pharell Williams, and several K-pop bands are among those who have performed in the past.

This year, though, the one of two superstar hosts who’ve livestreamed during pre-sales will be missing. Between Li Jiaqi and Viya, who’re called China’s king and queen of livestreaming respectively, one won’t be logging on.

Viya, the so-called queen of Chinese livestreaming, has been missing from the scene since December 2021, when China levied a $210 million fine on her for tax evasion. During last years Singles Day event, she sold $1 billion worth of goods in 14 hours.

Li was away from streaming for months, giving rise to speculation that he had offended Chinese censors, but he is back.

Viya’s absence could be a big hit considering the duo, which sold everything from lipstick to rocket launchers on Taobao Live—Alibaba’s livestreaming channel—pre-sold over $2.6 billion worth of products on opening day in 2021, accounting for 3.5% of the entire event’s sales.

However, other brands and platforms will continue to leverage influencers to make sales, including AI influencers. Short-video apps such as ByteDance’s Douyin, Kuaishou (1024.HK) and Xiaohongshu, are picking up the participation pace this year.

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This post has been updated to clarify Li Jiaqi is streaming for Singles Day.