If you have visited platforms like Lazada, Shopee, or Taobao lately, you would have noticed the number 11 emblazoned on their home pages. It signifies Singles Day, which happens to fall on 11 November every year; in other words, 11.11.

Singles Day started in China as a quirky alternative to Valentine’s Day shopping. Once e-commerce monsters Alibaba and JD climbed onboard, Singles Day swiftly gained momentum.

Today, Singles Day is the largest online shopping extravaganza on Earth. And by largest, it really is the largest by a mile. Its closest rivals are Amazon’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales in the United States. But Alibaba’s sales make Amazon’s efforts look like rounding errors in comparison.

In 2019, Alibaba’s sales broke US$12 billion in the first hour. Within an hour and a half, it exceeded its total Singles Day sales in 2016. In comparison, the Thanksgiving weekend sales are only expected to generate US$29 billion – a number that Alibaba eclipsed by noon.

Alibaba’s Singles Day sales compared to other big numbers (in billions of US$)

Of course, Alibaba isn’t the only platform participating in Singles Day. Rivals JD.com and Pinduoduo have also launched Singles Day campaigns to entice shoppers onto their platforms. JD.com reported that its sales, which started on November 1, had reached 165.8 billion yuan by 9am on November 11.

Being Single in Southeast Asia

Closer to home, Lazada Malaysia smashed its 2018 Singles Day record in 13 hours, selling over 1 million items within the first hour. The first package was delivered to a customer at 1.20 am on the morning of November 11.

A sample of Lazada’s shopping page during Singles Day

At its peak, Lazada’s biggest one-day sale saw the rate of transactions per minute increasing by over 50 per cent compared to 2018, with the Lazada Wallet emerging as the highest-used payment method across 24 hours. “We are grateful for another successful 11.11, which we could not have achieved without the amazing support from our shoppers, brands, partners and sellers. 11.11 marks an annual showcase of Lazada’s leading infrastructure in shoppertainment, technology, payments and logistics to handle peak orders, and this year’s incredible success reaffirms our commitment to continuously redefine the online shopping and selling experience for Malaysians,” said Leo Chow, Chief Executive Officer of Lazada Malaysia.

Rival platform Shopee also recorded a strong Singles Day performance. Over 70 million items were sold, where top-performing brands recorded an average of 5,659 times increase in visits and 740 times growth in orders. Ian Ho, Regional Managing Director, Shopee said, “We have been charting strong momentum this year-end sales season. Despite 11.11 being a global shopping festival, Shopee has been able to get this region on board and interested by successfully localising the campaign to suit our users wants and needs.”

Driving the Hype

Singles Day has also evolved from a day of massive sales to one that merges both consumption and entertainment.

Hype is driven by pre-Singles Day events organised by the platforms themselves. Each year, Alibaba holds a massive concert the night of November 10, inviting international superstars such as Mariah Carey and acts like Cirque du Soleil to perform in front of thousands, while live-streaming the concert to millions of viewers across the globe.

This year’s Singles Day ‘Countdown Gala’ featured a performance by Taylor Swift as well as appearances by Chinese singer G.E.M, singer-songwriter Hua Chenyu, and Japanese voice actress Kana Hanazawa. The event was livestreamed from the Mercedes Benz Arena in Shanghai.

Taylor Swift performing at Alibaba's Singles Day pre-event, Shanghai
Taylor Swift performing at Alibaba’s Singles Day 2019 pre-event, Shanghai

Local platform Shopee held a similar event, featuring personalities like Elyana, Farahanim Razak, and Sophia Liana to raise money for the #ShopeeMAKNA 11.11 Charity Challenge. Together with the National Cancer Council Malaysia (MAKNA), Shopee raised RM114,170 for a good cause.

Not Just About Sales

But more than sales, Singles Day also offers an unparalleled opportunity to test and break systems. The sheer volume of transactions is the ultimate test. “Singles Day is a benchmark for us to see how far we can push e-commerce,” says Kevin Lee, Chief Business Officer of Lazada Malaysia. “This is the day where we test just how interested people are in shopping online. We test to the maximum how quickly sellers can put products online. We test to the maximum our payment systems, our logistics, and our platform. That’s where we find our limits. This is the day where we see what the future looks like when everyone is shopping online.”

In addition, platforms are using Singles Day as a test bed for new customer engagement technologies. Shopee’s collection of in-app games, including its first augmented reality (AR) game Shopee Catch is riding on the new trend of gamification. Lazada and Facebook are also trialling livestreaming and ‘Buy it Now’ buttons, to allow online personalities to better interact with their customers.

What is it Really All About?

So what can we learn from Singles Day? There’s no doubt that consumers love online shopping. And the platforms that enable shopping on such a scale are growing bigger themselves.

In 2009, before the first Singles Day sale, Alibaba founder Jack Ma wrote that small businesses can compete against giants in the field of e-commerce. Ma noted that, “Three trends will power this change: new Web-based technologies, a shift toward consumer control over product design, and the global distribution of capital. As a result of technological advancements, smaller companies now have access to tools and techniques once only afforded by major corporations.”

Today, Alibaba now calls itself a data and technology company, one that provides digital tools to help the businesses on its platforms. That, in turn, leads consumers to look to those platforms for their every need, from shopping and services to entertainment and travel.

Will this be good for small businesses? Only time will tell. For now, consumers are loving the sales, sellers are loving the profits, and platforms are looking to the next year.


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