What Can a Single Day do for Brands?

— Nicky Wang, Managing Director - Integrated Marketing 

If you thought Black Friday and Cyber Monday were big, imagine an event more than twice the size. Picture, if you can, 325,000 orders taking place per second over 24 hours. ‘Singles’ Day’ – an unofficial Chinese commercial holiday held every year on November 11 – is now the world’s largest shopping event.

Since Alibaba began using Singles’ Day to promote Tmall, its virtual mall for brands back in 2009, growth has only continued year-on-year. And the fanfare is worth it. From RMB50 million in sales in 2009 to RMB213.5 billion in 2018, November 11 – or Double Eleven – has evolved from a crowded promotional day into an omnichannel carnival full of immersive, engaging experiences.


The unstoppable China market

This year, the 11.11 shopping spree hit a record US$30.8 billion within 24 hours, with full-day sales setting a new high – up 27% year-on-year. According to Forbes, this record-breaking day of sales is symbolic of an unstoppable China, mainly because ‘Made in China’ isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, and would lead many to believe the trade tensions between China and the U.S. are virtually non-existent.

Indeed, according to Campaign Asia, 237 brands raked in US$14.4 million in individual gross merchandise value, including Apple, L’Oréal, Nestle, and Adidas. It’s clear that Chinese consumers are hungry for international brands, and U.S. brands are front and centre alongside Japan and Korea. Over 40% of consumers bought from these international brands, showing a rising level of sophistication in purchasing power.


The opportunity for smaller brands

Yet, despite the incredible growth – brands also face many challenges. While Singles’ Day is a great opportunity to see the impact of targeted promotions on buying behaviours, in the last 10 years, the number of merchants involved has grown from 27 to 180,000. With only 8 brands achieving the top RMB1 billion in sales, it begs the question – how can smaller brands stand out from the crowd of behemoth brands and capture consumer attention?

We’ve said this before, but WE’s Stories in Motion research discovered that mobile is most important. While we’re still waiting for the exact stats from this year’s event, we know that in 2017, 90% of Singles’ Day purchases were made on smartphones. It goes without saying that a strong mobile presence is vital if brands are to capitalise on this colossal, digital-led shopping event.

Here are three other ways brands can stand out from the crowd:


1. Prioritise play

Riding on the boom of the in-app gaming industry in China, brands can deliver differentiated experiences to customers in the form of interactive mini-games, and provide value via entertainment. By gamifying the user experience, brands can elevate the occasion from a purely transactional one, to one that brings a deeper engagement with consumers, whilst also driving sales. Mobile makes for the perfect platform to blend entertainment, innovation and e-commerce. However, brands must remember to include that all-important call-to-action mechanism to move seamlessly from being entertained, to having the desire to purchase –particularly during such a crowded, fast-moving time as Singles’ Day.


2. Don’t forget about offline

In this over-crowded online space – where brands are facing intense competition and forced to reduce margins for volume – there is an opportunity for brands to re-direct consumers to offline stores at a fraction of the cost of recruitment online. Uniqlo successfully did this during Singles' Day in 2017 by analysing items in customers’ online shopping baskets and using location-based services to inform consumers of promotions in the retail outlets closet to them.


3. Look beyond Singles’ Day

The benefits of a good campaign initiative shouldn’t be limited to Singles’ Day. Indeed, the data garnered from consumer interaction with specific parts of a campaign provides valuable insight into consumers’ personal preferences. This information can help determine which customers are most valuable in the long-term, and represent the best future for campaign investment.


‘Playing’ on consumer optimism

Finding new ways to cut through the noise in China is more important than ever in an increasingly omnichannel world. But, despite the challenges this poses, the future is bright. According to our latest Brands in Motion research, consumer sentiment in China has improved in the last twelve months, with both emotional and rational driver scores increasing on average from 2017 to 2018, indicating renewed optimism toward brands and their categories.

For brands who can deliver uniquely engaging experiences that play on consumers’ passion for mobile interaction and playability, this is a huge opportunity for retail success during Singles’ Day – and beyond.