5 ways to capture the growing Singles Day opportunity

Date:Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Author:Charlie Gilbert

It’s become the planet’s biggest retail extravaganza. Now, argues Saisangeeth Daswani, China’s Singles Day is ripe for western brands to capitalise on – even after the event. Here’s how.

This Singles Day was of particular significance to Alibaba. It has been 10 years since the Chinese powerhouse launched its global shopping event, and with Jack Ma’s recent retirement announcement, many were eager to see if the company’s influence still holds.

The e-commerce giant delivered, and anyone seeking that reassurance got it. Last Sunday (November 11), Alibaba reportedly brought in $30.7bn over the 24-hour shopping period – an increase of 27% compared to 2017. In fact, the idea of turning Singles Day into a shop-fest initially stemmed from its current CEO, Daniel Zhang, over a decade ago. And now it’s turning into an international event, with opportunities for Western brands to engage consumers locally, and in the East.

Here are five key insights for Western brands looking to capitalise on this goliath retail festival in future...

1. Penetrating the mainland

Alibaba put a much heavier focus on logistics and order fulfilment this year, extending the event beyond its usual city dwellers. Capturing consumer desire for instant gratification even in lesser-developed cities and more rural areas, the e-tailer leveraged its rural Taobao platform to offer coupons and services to a whopping 800 counties in China. This created an ecosystem that made the experience for all consumers more seamless and convenient, while also addressing order fulfilment pain points, which is often felt after a surge in online orders.

The learning here is to look beyond main cities. Partner with existing logistics firms to capture opportunities in lower-tier cities and non-urban areas where infrastructure may not be as robust.

2. Tapping into lifestyle

Consumer appetite for a more lifestyle approach to shopping is growing in China, and Alibaba seized this opportunity by making ‘lifestyle’ its focus. 150,000 services using its lifestyle app, Koubei, offered discounts for things such as catering and karaoke, while start-up Ele.me provided delivery services for select Starbucks stores across 11 cities. Chinese consumers had their eye on experiences as well – hospitality brands including Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and Intercontinental booked 350,000 nights combined.

Consumers are increasingly taking a lifestyle-first approach to shopping. As demand for big ticketed items softens, think about ways you can cater to this shift and secure a stake in the market.

3. Get physical

With Alibaba adopting ‘New Retail’ – the complete digitisation of all forms of commerce – as one of its core strategies, the company has ensured that Singles Day is available to physical retail as well as digital. It has created a breeding ground of test initiatives across 200,000 offline Tmall-branded smart stores, including cloud-based shelves for connected shopping, AI mirrors for personalised product recommendations, and AR technology for make-up trials. Alibaba’s data insights have also allowed these stores to service their consumers in a smarter way, offering them the opportunity to pay, earn points and apply discounts via a single scan from their Taobao mobile accounts.

Physical retail still dominates, but its role is evolving from a traditional point of sale to a point of engagement. Let engagement be the focus offline, but offer a flow of touchpoints that will allow consumers to seamlessly hop across their channels of choice.

4. Going global

Singles Day is no longer the reserve of the East. It’s en route to becoming what it touts as a ‘global shopping festival’ – 180,000 brands participated in this year’s event, and over 40% of the purchases made by consumers were from international brands. Expanding its footprint beyond China, Alibaba partnered with its subsidiaries as an extension of its ecosystem. Lazada (owned by Alibaba) officially brought the festival to consumers in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, while e-commerce company Daraz opened the retail frenzy up to consumers in South Asian countries.

And while growing numbers of e-commerce companies have attempted to create their own shopping events, many have still chosen to offer discounts and deals on Singles Day to capitalise on consumer demand. JD.com has been leading the way for a few years, with ComScore reporting it as the second-most-trafficked website in China behind Alibaba on 2017’s Singles Day. But additional local platforms such as Suning, VIP.com, Vmall.com and Kaola.com all featured 11.11 offers this year.

As Singles Day becomes recognised internationally, brands in the West should get involved by adding the shopping event to their year-round calendars, and looking ahead to 2019.

5. Think beyond discount

Brands started to think beyond purely price slashing, using new tools and engaging content to deliver richer marketing experiences. Lazada introduced ‘Wonderland’, an interactive map that encouraged consumers to hunt for Singles Day deals across brands and win vouchers for their purchases. It also re-introduced the community-focused gamified experience ‘Slash It’, where consumers could partner with peers to slash prices and receive vouchers and discount codes by shaking their mobile phones.

Beyond the main event, the lead up and pre-purchase research phase is also gaining importance among consumers who want to make sure they’re getting the best deal. Online fashion brand Zalora spoke to this need for Singles Day by introducing elevated content and services ahead of the event, including a visual-based search function, an AI-driven personalised shopping page, and shoppable videos.

US brands need to be thinking about ways to entice consumers, whether that’s using elevated content or offering new services. As more retailers join the Singles Day landscape, brands will need to create more interactive and meaningful touchpoints to cut through the noise. Take advantage of consumer desire for research prior to the event, and foster loyalty with richer and more relevant content.

Looking ahead to 2019…

Leading up to this 2018’s event, there were fears that consumers would suffer from shoppers’ fatigue, but the magnitude of discounts and promotions paired with Alibaba’s year-on-year initiatives in marketing, supply chain and tech proved that the shopping festival is here to stay. But while the outlook for the festival looks incredibly positive, brand marketers will need to create compelling reasons for Eastern, and local, consumers to consider them relevant in the years to come.

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