Each year, as soon as Halloween is over, the U.S. ecommerce industry starts to prepare for the biggest sales push of the year: Black Friday. But increasingly, American retailers are also squeezing in a niche shopping holiday before the big year-end extravaganza — China's Singles' Day — essentially starting the holiday shopping season even earlier.
Singles' Day is the world's largest shopping bonanza, one invented by the Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba back in 2009. It falls on Nov. 11 (or 11/11, where the number one represents a single person). Originally, Singles' Day was branded as a celebration for being single and pursuing self-care. It's now China's Black Friday equivalent, but bigger, with sales numbers easily beating America's Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
A few years ago, American retailers popular among Chinese customers introduced Singles' Day promotions Stateside. Some offer discounts in multiples of $11, at a $111 price point or 11%-off deals.
This year, consumers and marketing analysts in the U.S. have noticed a wider range of Western brands launched Singles' Day-specific deals. All told, at least 100 Western brands — from direct-to-consumer sheets seller Brooklinen to luxury department store Saks Fifth Avenue and from boutique jewelry brand Kinn to clothing retail chain Ann Taylor — offered Singles' Day-specific discounts. Krista Corrigan, a retail analyst at marketing and business consultancy Edited told Protocol it indicated "widespread participation in the region."
One possible reason more American retailers are participating in the Chinese sales event is to mitigate the supply-chain challenges clogging up ports across the world by spreading consumption across a longer timeline.
In China, where the ecommerce industry is also plagued by supply shortages, major online marketplaces like Alibaba and JD.com have stretched Singles' Day into a weeks-long affair. To help sellers and suppliers gauge consumer interest to secure inventory, Chinese ecommerce platforms launched a prolonged pre-ordering window before the "real" Singles' Day. In the U.S., Singles' Day is still a standalone, one-day shopping event, with the earliest promotion dropped on Nov. 6.
A Nov. 11 shopping event fits conveniently into the early Black Friday promotion window. A McKinsey survey found that 45% of U.S. consumers, concerned about shipping delays, started shopping for the holidays in early October.
This year's Singles' Day sales in the U.S. also mirrored its dimming sales performance in China. An Edited analysis found that the discounts applied on Singles' Day in the U.S. were also "the most conservative" in three years. The average sitewide discount was 45% this year, compared to an average of 50% in 2020 and 53% in 2019, because Americans retailers were trying to offset steep markdowns taken during the pandemic.
While the Singles' Day occasion has become increasingly recognizable in the U.S. over the past few years, marketing analysts believe it is unlikely the shopping event will reach the level of its significance in China.
"China's ecommerce environment is more [mature] and complicated," Wilson Zhao, a senior specialist at Gartner, a technology research and consulting company, told Protocol. Consumers in China can buy a single brand from a variety of sites, including both traditional brand sites and online marketplaces as well as social commerce platforms like WeChat, Red and Douyin. Each platform also has built its own ecosystem that allows buyers to shop through different channels such as livestreaming, influencer content and brand stores.
Still, Singles' Day could be a great opportunity for e-retailers to target the vast number of Chinese expats in the U.S. who are familiar with the festival.
"Brands such as Armani Beauty, Samsonite, Estée Lauder, Dior Beauty, Clinique, NutriBullet [and] GNC have offered promotion codes for Singles' Day," Zhao said. "Even though these discounts applied to limited selections, it is still a great marketing moment to stay connected with their Chinese consumers."