What does November 11 mean to you? In the United States, it's Veterans Day, a day to celebrate and honor our nation's military veterans for their service. In China, however, November 11 has a much different meaning. On that day, the Chinese celebrate Singles' Day - and thanks to the efforts of global online marketplace Alibaba, Singles' Day has become a true shopping phenomenon.
The History of Singles' Day
Singles' Day origins date back to the 1990s, when male college students originated the idea for a day when young, single men celebrated their freedom. Originally called Bachelors' Day, the holiday was born as a response to Valentine's Day, offering a way for single people to feel better about their status instead of feeling sad or lonely that they didn't have a Valentine to celebrate with. The date 11/11 was chosen to symbolize the "bare sticks" - that is, single people - symbolized by the four number ones in that date. Before long, the Singles' Day concept expanded to include single women, too.
The popularity of Singles' Day in China continued to grow organically for a while, but the concept really took off in 2009 when online marketplace Alibaba decided to turn the day into a marketing phenomenon. Alibaba encouraged the retailers, entrepreneurs and small business owners who sell to consumers on its many online properties to offer customers steep discounts for an event that would eventually transform into a weeks-long shopping extravaganza. Chinese companies promote their Singles' Day deals in advance of November 11 to stir up a shopping frenzy, but customers can only make the actual purchases on that day (just like Black Friday in the U.S.).
Since 2009, when Alibaba first began touting Singles' Day promotions, Singles' Days sales have skyrocketed by nearly 6,000 percent. Last year, MarketWatch reports Singles' Day sales on Alibaba alone surpassed $9.3 billion - and 43 percent of those sales came from mobile devices.
Singles' Day: A Growing Trend
If you want to get an idea of what Singles' Day frenzy looks like in action, think of how American consumers act around Black Friday. People plan for the shopping event weeks in advance, news media report on attention-getting promotions, and consumers try to scope out the best deals - then try to beat each other to the punch to make their purchases online before the most desirable items sell out.
However, Singles' Day is much bigger than Black Friday because the sheer number of Chinese consumers is so much bigger than the number of U.S. consumers. Last year, for instance, Alibaba's Singles' Day sales outpaced ecommerce spending from U.S. desktop computers on Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday combined.
The number of participating vendors involved in Singles' Day has increased too. Starting with only 27 merchants in 2009, Alibaba increased the number of participating vendors on its Tmall site a thousandfold, to about 27,000 in 2014.
And Alibaba's plans for Singles' Day don't stop there. Alibaba founder Jack Ma told CNBC he expects Singles' Day to become a global holiday within the next five years. Already, as of 2014, Singles' Day deals reached consumers in more than 220 countries.
Although Alibaba started in China, its goal has always been to empower small business owners everywhere and to connect consumers and businesses around the globe. The expansion of Singles' Day is part of Alibaba's mission to connect buyers with sellers worldwide. That's why for 2015, Alibaba is expanding its Singles' Day promotions to include all its distribution channels. Here's a closer look at exactly what those channels are.
Singles' Day Everywhere on Alibaba
Taobao: Chinese consumers rely on Alibaba's B2C ecommerce site, Taobao, to buy anything and everything (just like U.S. consumers consider Amazon.com). Taobao started out as a kind of eBay-type site, but has since grown far beyond that. It's become China's largest online shopping destination, with a wide range of products and services, ranging from everyday items to hard-to-find specialty products. For sellers, who are typically individuals or small businesses, Taobao offers a low-cost distribution channel that helps them get a start in business and grow their companies. For buyers, Taobao is often a starting point to explore all that Alibaba's many distribution channels have to offer.
Alitrip: For companies seeking to market a Singles' Day travel excursion to single consumers, or a pack of single friends looking for a fun weekend trip to take, Alitrip is the place to go. One of China's leading online travel booking platforms, Alitrip offers all kinds of travel products and services, using data from Alibaba to help target prospective customers.
Tmall: What if a single Chinese woman feels like treating herself to something special to celebrate Singles' Day? Perhaps she wants to buy some fine jewelry, a designer purse, or other big-name product. She'll probably click on Tmall, which is China's largest third-party platform for consumer brands and retailers. At this ecommerce site, renowned worldwide brands such as Burberry, Estee Lauder and Apple sell their wares online to consumers. As of March 31, 2015, Tmall was home to over 140,000 brands, serving as a global platform where the world's biggest brands can connect with the huge Chinese consumer market.
Juhuasuan: In the United States, "flash sales" are a popular way for consumers to buy products from high-end brands for less, or to get just about any kind of product at an incredible discount. In China, consumers seeking those kinds of deals turn to the group-buying marketplace Juhuasuan, where demand is aggregated so that sellers can offer products at extremely low prices for a limited time. Many merchants who sell on Taobao and Tmall sell their products through Juhuasuan as well.
What Does It All Mean to You?
But what does Singles' Day mean to your business as an America entrepreneur? You don't have to cater to Chinese Singles' to take advantage of Alibaba's many options for sourcing products. As you prepare for our own version of Singles' Day - that is, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, not to mention the rest of the holiday shopping season - you can turn to Alibaba to source all kinds of products for your customers.
It's easy to find whatever type of product you're looking for on Alibaba. Just start on the homepage, Alibaba.com, where you'll see a wide range of products broken down in the "Categories" tab on the left-hand side of the page. You'll find everything from apparel and electronics to gifts, sports and toys here. Click on any category to go to the category page, where you'll find further breakdowns of available products in a variety of ways. Already know exactly what you want? Then just type what you're looking for into the search bar on the homepage.
Of course, when you're trying to compete during the holiday shopping season, it's important to have the latest and hottest products for your target customers. Alibaba can help here, too, by showing you popular products in each category so you know what's selling well in your industry. What if you need low minimum order quantities? You can search by that option as well and get results showing only sellers who are willing to fulfill small orders.
When you finally find the product you need, it's natural to get a little nervous about placing the order - especially if you've never dealt with overseas suppliers before. Fortunately, Alibaba can help ease your nerves, too. All you have to do is look for suppliers who participate in Alibaba's Trade Assurance program. (You can filter your search so that it only displays this type of supplier if you want.)
When you find a Trade Assurance participating supplier, simply check to make sure that the amount of their Trade Assurance coverage is equivalent to or greater than the amount of the purchase you're planning to make. If so, you know that you can buy with confidence from that seller. When you make the purchase, Alibaba will create an online contract for both you and the seller that specifies the product delivery date as well as quality standards that the product must meet.
If, upon inspection, the products do not meet the agreed-upon standards, or if the products don't arrive by the specified delivery date, you can receive a refund for the amount of your purchase up to the seller's Trade Assurance coverage limit. It's that simple - no worries.
Making the World Safe for Global Trade
In Alibaba's quest to create a world of global trade, building an atmosphere of trust is a key factor in the equation. By using the Trade Assurance program, both buyers and sellers on Alibaba.com can transact business with confidence - no matter where they are around the globe.
Learn more about Trade Assurance.