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Singles Day: How the Chinese “Prime Day” Affects Western Sellers

by Matt Ellis, on November 1, 2018

Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate all the love and companionship in your life… which is why single people hate it. But for the lovelorn, a new “anti-Valentine’s Day” from China offers respite from cute and cuddly couples. In the West we call it “Singles Day” — and it drives enough eCommerce sales to surpass both Black Friday and Amazon Prime Day as the world’s biggest online shopping day.

With the considerable spike of online sales during Singles Day, the holiday sends ripples throughout eCommerce all over the world, with China at the epicenter. So how can Western markets capitalize on this online shopping phenomenon from overseas? This article explains everything you need to know, starting with some background on the holiday, and then moving on to practical tips for Western sellers.

What is Single’s Day?

If you want to incorporate Singles Day into your Q4 itinerary — which should already be busy enough — you first need to understand the holiday. What does it represent, who participates and what are the customs?

A relatively new holiday, Singles Day was started 25 years ago in 1993. At first, it was a celebration for male university students (it originated at Nanjing University), but has since bloomed into more mainstream acceptance, regardless of age or gender. In fact, somewhat ironically, it has now become a popular day for Chinese couples to get married.

Singles Day is celebrated every year on November 11. The founders chose this date because of the four repeating ones (11/11), a tongue-and-cheek wink at being alone. For that reason, its literal Chinese name Guanggun Jie translates into something like “single sticks” or “bare sticks” holiday, after the number one.

But aside from being a Valentine’s Day alternative for singles, the holiday inadvertently spawned the world’s largest shopping day because of its one noteworthy custom: everyone buys themselves a gift! To celebrate independence, everyone (regardless of relationship status) is encouraged to treat themselves to a present — something that will sound familiar to Parks and Recreation fans.

So what happens when you tell everyone in the world’s most populated country to buy themselves a gift? You get the largest shopping day of the year, more than America’s Black Friday or Amazon's Prime Day. In 2017, Singles Day sales reached US$38.2 billion (254 billion yuan); Alibaba alone netted $25.3 billion in just that one day.

5 Ways Western Sellers Profit from Singles Day

There’s nothing intrinsically Chinese about Singles Day — everyone in the world, no matter their race or nationality, can get behind the idea of celebrating one’s own independence. With that in mind, Alibaba founder Jack Ma (think China’s answer to Jeff Bezos) has started an initiative to turn Singles Day into a worldwide event.

“We want to make this a global holiday, a global festival for every consumer,” Ma told CNN in 2016. “We want [to] help global small business.” Aside from Western celebrity endorsement by the likes of Nicole Kidman and Pharrell Williams, Chinese companies like Alibaba are lately branching out their promotions to global markets.

So how can Western sellers participate? It will still take a few years before Singles Day becomes mainstream in other countries, for the time being, online stores can target Chinese shoppers using these five tactics:

1. Promote the Right Products

Judging from past Singles Day trends, shoppers tend to favor certain types of products over others. The first step towards marketing to Chinese buyers is to know what they’ll likely be looking for. According to ZDNet, here are the top product categories of Singles Day 2017, and their percentage of the day’s total sales:

  1. Major appliances - 15.2%
  2. Mobile phones - 8.7%
  3. Personal care - 5.6%
  4. Maternity and children’s goods - 3.6%
  5. Small appliances - 2.8%
  6. Cosmetics - 2.5%

Based on the performance of appliances and personal items, it seems many shoppers use Singles Day to buy what they need just as much as what they want.

2. Invest in Translation and International Services

For selling to Chinese markets during Singles Day, any marketing advice will start with mastering the basics of international eCommerce:

  • Translating copy to adequate Chinese.
  • Allowing popular Chinese payment methods.
  • Enabling international shipping, with prices competitive to Chinese sellers.

While they may be “basics,” these are no easy feats. International selling comes with its own obstacles, and logistics issues like shipping are more imperative than secondary concerns like advertising.

3. Prioritize Mobile

As opposed to U.S. eCommerce, where mobile purchases make up about 50% of online sales revenue, an overwhelming majority of Chinese shoppers complete purchases on mobile devices. In 2017, 91.2% of all Singles Day sales came from mobile terminals.

For any seller, Western or not, a mobile-optimized and responsive site is no less than a necessity.

4. The Three Stages of Singles Day

While November 11 is the main event, preparation for Singles Day can be broken up into phases. According to eCommerce writer Matt Lindner, you should organize your marketing efforts by these three periods:

  • Late October - Broadcast promotions and raise awareness on what deals you’re offering. Allow shoppers to put down deposits.
  • Nov. 1-10 - Generate buzz and excitement by heavily promoting deals and even offering new “surprise” promotions. Tactics like ticking clocks or pre-sale bonuses work well at this time.
  • Singles Day (Nov. 11) - ABC: Always Be Closing. Collect payments on all pre-sales and drive more sales all day long.

For marketing and inventory logistics, Singles Day works similarly to other shopping holidays like Black Friday or Prime Day. That means many of your favorite strategies can carry over.

5. Social Media Marketing

Many of Singles Day sales are initiated on social media, making these platforms your top choice for marketing campaigns. However, given that you’re targeting Chinese markets, you may need to expand to new channels that are popular there. The messaging app WeChat and blogging platform Weibo are both great places to start from, although you may need outside help for the language and cultural barriers.

Once your have an online presence, you can still use some of your same old social media marketing tactics. Video content works just as well in China as it does in the US, and interactive HTML5 games can help you engage with potential customers.


One of eCommerce’s greatest strengths over brick-and-mortar retail is that it’s less restricted by geography. That means while most mom-and-pop stores are powerless on Nov. 11, online stores can take full advantage of the world’s biggest shopping day. Don’t waste this exclusive opportunity; make the necessary preparations to enable international selling and enter the Singles Day game now. The sooner you do it, the better — if trends continue like this, in a few years Singles Day will no longer be optional.


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