With the Pandemic Behind It, China Prepares for a $40 Billion+ Singles Day

For the first time in its 12-year history, ecommerce giant Alibaba is extending the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival—the single-biggest retail event on the planet—by breaking it into two phases, with a presale starting Oct. 21. Similarly, competing platform JD.com has planned its own four-stage 11.11 promotion from Oct. 21 to Nov. 13.

Eleven months after coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, it’s the latest sign that life is mostly back to normal in China as masks and social distancing are no longer required and stores and restaurants are crowded again, per Amie Song, senior research specialist at Gartner.

But ripple effects remain as brands and retailers seek to recover from the pandemic by doubling down on Singles Day 2020, added Xiaofeng Wang, senior analyst at Forrester. She said the first stage of Alibaba’s Singles Day sale, which will take place Nov. 1-3, will focus on new brands, new products and exclusive items.

“This would make the first stage an extra growth driver to ensure a grander Double 11 than ever,” she said.

In fact, Alibaba expects 250,000 brands and 800 million shoppers to participate. Per Wang’s figures, 5 million third-party merchants are also anticipated as Alibaba more actively solicited small- and medium-sized businesses—including those from the U.S.—this year.

That means unlike the U.S. records for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which are expected to stand for at least another year, Alibaba should shatter the $38.4 billion record it set on Singles Day 2019.

“There is strong optimism in China, as it is perceived to be winning the fight against Covid and society is protected,” said Henrik Saetre, head of growth at Chinese advertising platform AdChina.io. “And to celebrate, consumers are definitely ready for some retail therapy.”

Wang agreed Alibaba will break the $39 billion mark in part because it is also prolonging the event, much like Amazon has done with Prime Day over the years.

“The second phase (of Alibaba’s Singles Day event on Nov. 11) is more routine, but China’s economy has recovered strongly and Chinese consumers’ purchase behaviors have already returned to prepandemic levels if not higher, particularly online,” she added.

Consumers out for revenge (shopping)

There’s certainly an appetite among shoppers in China to treat themselves, which is exactly what college students intended in 1993 when they created the anti-Valentine’s Day movement called Singles Day. (They chose Nov. 11 because it’s a date comprised solely of ones. Alibaba latched onto it in 2009 as a means to sell coats, and the rest is history.)

When the Hermès flagship in Guangzhou reopened on April 11, for example, one-day sales reportedly reached $2.7 million. Then, in June, JD.com sold 269.2 billion yuan ($40 billion) during the mid-year anniversary sale known as 6.18, which it has hosted since 2004. Alibaba reportedly sold 698.2 billion yuan ($104.6 billion) of merchandise during its own 6.18 sale.

It’s a concept dubbed “revenge shopping,” with consumers splurging after being cooped up during the pandemic. And, following strong results on dates like 6.18, Geraldine Cheung, managing director of GroupM’s luxury agency L’Atelier, said, “No doubt, I would expect to see this eagerness to spend being carried into the Double 11 season.”

Tmall expects to launch 2 million new products

Song, too, thinks sales will surpass $39 billion because more brands are offering discounts and launching new products, particularly on Alibaba’s b-to-c platform Tmall.

Indeed, Alibaba expects more than 2 million new products to launch there, which is twice as many as last year.

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