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Why Singles Day in China Matters to UK Ecommerce Businesses

Significant holiday dates are important for ecommerce businesses, usually signalling an increase in sales. For online businesses, what's happening in the country where they are based is not the only thing that matters. Foreign holidays can also have an impact on sales, creating more dates that online sellers need to pay attention to. With the Chinese market so prominent in the world of ecommerce, businesses all over the world need to be aware of significant holidays in China. Singles Day is just one of the key dates that ecommerce companies should note.

It's no secret that China is a behemoth in both the world economy and the ecommerce sector. China's economy is the second-largest in the world, after the United States, with a GDP of US$12.238 trillion. By 2024, the ecommerce market in China is predicted to reach $3 trillion. In 2020, despite a decline of 3.9% in total consumer retail, there was an increase of 14.8% in online sales of physical goods.

What Is Singles Day?

Singles Day is a retail event that takes place in November and has become the world's largest online shopping day. The day was created as a kind of anti-Valentine's Day event in the '90s by college students but has been promoted as a retail event by the Chinese retail giant Alibaba since 2009. Also called the Global Shopping Festival, it's usually held on November 11th, but in 2020 was extended beyond 24 hours. Promotions ran from the beginning of the month and continued for the first two weeks of November.

Singles Day beats out other big retail events for the highest sales numbers! For example, in 2017 Alibaba saw $25.3 billion in sales for Singles Day. Meanwhile, in the same year, the total ecommerce sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US amounted to $10.6 billion.

Alibaba is not the only one that makes a large number of sales on Singles Day. Another huge Chinese retailer, JD.com, also brings in a lot of revenue during this promotional period. From November 1st to 12th in 2020, both ecommerce giants brought in $115 billion in sales together. Alibaba's gross merchandise value was $74.1 billion (498.2 billion yuan) and JD.com's was $40.97 billion (271.5 billion yuan).

One of the interesting things to note for companies in other markets is that foreign brands proved popular in 2020. While this can partly be attributed to travel restrictions due to the pandemic, interest in these brands can be expected to still be high this year and beyond. US brands, in particular, were popular. As a matter of fact, $5 billion of Alibaba's gross merchandise value came from US brands. Other top-selling countries included the UK, Canada, Italy, France, Germany, and New Zealand. In total, 250,000 brands were involved in the event in 2020, with 31,000 of them from outside of China, compared to 200,000 brands and 22,000 foreign brands in 2019.

Singles Day is quickly growing as a retail event in China, continuing to bring in billions of sales. And this increase in popularity is leading the event to start gaining attention not just in China but all around the world too.

Singles Day Outside of China

So, what about Singles Day in other markets? Although the event may have started in China, it isn’t bound to stay there. To consider another example, Black Friday and Cyber Monday began as US major retail events after Thanksgiving. However, due to the global nature of ecommerce, these events have now spread to countries like the UK, Spain, France and many others.

Singles Day is beginning to gain traction as an ecommerce event in the UK and in the last few years, sales have steadily increased. In 2018, there was £1.1 billion in sales resulting from the event, which rose to £1.29 billion in 2019, and £1.44 billion in 2020. Various British brands have been participating in the event: Marks and Spencer, Waitrose, and ASOS have marketplaces on Alibaba's Tmall site, and the supermarket Sainsbury's has even been using a virtual reality promotion tool on the site.

The UK isn't the only market that has seen an increase in sales for Singles Day. In France, online sales for Singles Day totalled almost £900 million. In 2020, US businesses made over $5 billion in sales, the most of any country outside of China. The German consumer electronics retailer Media Markt promotes the day at their stores, the Dutch ecommerce site bol.com has participated in Singles Day for the last several years, and many Swiss ecommerce businesses have included the day in their other holiday sales.

What to Expect for 2021

As Singles Day approaches for 2021, ecommerce businesses should be aware of what to expect. The event is a little slow to enter some European markets, partly because November 11th is already Armistice Day, but this won't prevent it from growing forever. It is gaining traction in multiple markets outside of China. Another thing to consider is that there is also a UK Singles Day on March 11th, which various UK brands have participated in.

Googling for Singles Day in the UK reveals many pages highlighting the upcoming offers for this year's event. There are predictions that this year will be a huge opportunity for retailers in the UK to offer promotions and increase their sales. Chinese expats have been particularly responsive, being already aware of the holiday and still connected to their roots. Businesses interested in getting involved should consider their audience and work to make them aware of Singles Day and the promotions that they are planning. As well as marketing within the UK, businesses might consider connecting with the Chinese market from Alibaba and other platforms.

As Singles Day is growing both in China and outside of the country, it opens up a new set of opportunities for online retailers and it’s bound to become a staple of the ecommerce sector.