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Singles' Day: The biggest shopping day you’ve never heard of

Singles Day header

Today, China celebrated Singles' Day – the largest online shopping event in the world, which this year proved so popular that it has become the biggest online shopping day in history, with consumers spending almost £6 billion before lunchtime. But what is Singles' Day? And how popular is it?

What is Single’s Day?

It’s a day for people who are single, celebrated on November 11th in China. The date was chosen because of its connection with the number 1 to represent a single person.

It began in the 1990s as a celebratory day when young singles in the country would organise parties and karaoke outings. Soon, Alibaba, the Chinese internet giant which has 80% of China’s online shopping market, saw the potential and started to offer promotions connected to the day. 2011 marked the "Singles Day of the Century", (this date having six 'one’s rather than four) which took things up a notch. Shopping promotions were highlighted throughout China as an excuse for single people to buy a gift for themselves. Since then, it has become the world’s largest online shopping day.

Just how big is it?
This year, Alibaba  broke its previous record sales of £6.1 billion made last year in just over half the time. Alibaba said more than $1 billion was spent within eight minutes of midnight and within the first hour it had made £2 billion in sales, almost double the amount spent in the same time period of the event last year.

In comparison to the $9.34 billion spent on Singles' Day this year, Americans are expected to spend $5.7 billion online on Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined this year, according to Adobe's Digital Index.

What is the connection with Alibaba?

Alibaba adopted the event in 2009, appealing to a market of young Chinese who were both single and internet-savvy. It offered huge discounts on a wide range of products and other retailers jumped on the band wagon. It has become more prolific with every successive year and this year was bigger than ever.

For the first time, the company held a “Singles' Day Eve” event in Beijing, with a countdown to the start of the event at midnight with a flamboyant variety show starring both Asian and Western celebrities including James Bond star Daniel Craig, Kevin Spacey, in character as US President Frank Underwood from the television show House of Cards and singer Adam Lambert.

Is it going to come here?

Although Cyber Monday and Black Friday are already well established in the US and are becoming more and more popular in the UK, Singles' Day has yet to become known outside of China. However, with Alibaba’s listing on the New York Stock Exchange in September 2014, it opened up the internet giant to other markets.

European and US brands had a very solid presence with Alibaba’s company on Singles' Day, but as yet the company has not launched its event outside of its home market. Having said that, you can bet that there are a lot of retailers outside China who are sitting up and taking note of the event after this year and wondering how they can take advantage of its success.

Beth Troake

Wednesday, 11 November 2015 at 12:35pm

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