This photo taken in Shenyang, China just days before Singles’ Day 2018 (Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images)
This photo taken in Shenyang, China just days before Singles’ Day 2018 (Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

BusinessNovember 11, 2019

Cheat sheet: What is Singles’ Day?

This photo taken in Shenyang, China just days before Singles’ Day 2018 (Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images)
This photo taken in Shenyang, China just days before Singles’ Day 2018 (Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

You’ve heard of Black Friday, you’ve heard of Cyber Monday, but have you ever heard of mega shopping bonanza Singles’ Day? If not, here’s what you need to know about Double 11.

What is Singles’ Day?

Singles’ Day is a shopping holiday that’s held every year on November 11. It first started in China as a celebration of being single, and its date – 11/11, which consists of four ones – aptly reflects that. 

Singles’ Day is said to have begun as a reaction against Valentine’s Day and is thought to have grown out of Nanjing University’s dorm culture in the 1990s, when four male students discussed how they could break away from the monotony of being single. Since then, the celebration has spread into wider Chinese society and, thanks to the internet and social media, the rest of the world too.

Alibaba 11.11 Global Shopping Festival 2018 (Photo: Supplied)

Wait, so it started as a celebration of singledom… how did it turn into this mass consumerist holiday?

The same way most holidays (Christmas, Valentine’s etc) do – by getting co-opted by brands. In this case, Singles’ Day found a new lease of life when it was adopted by e-commerce giant Alibaba in 2009, turning “Double 11” into a day when everyone – not just single people – get to treat themselves to shiny new things. Most transactions occur on Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao platforms, the former giving Chinese consumers access to imported goods while the latter is kind of like a Chinese version of TradeMe or eBay. 

With that said, non-shopping related events do still occur on Singles’ Day, most of which – ironically – have to do with how to stop being single. Blind date parties, for instance, are becoming increasingly more common, and getting married on Single’s Day is also highly popular in China, a tradition which peaked in 2011 (aka Super Singles’ Day because of the date’s six ones – 11.11.11). More than 4,000 couples are said to have tied the knot that day in Beijing alone.

How massive is Singles’ Day? And how does it compare to something like Black Friday?

Black Friday is peanuts compared to Singles’ Day, with the holiday generating more money than Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US combined. Last year, Alibaba Group generated more than $30 billion US of gross merchandise volume (GMV) with approximately 180,000 brands from China and around the world taking part. 

Simply put, Singles’ Day is the biggest e-commerce festivity in the world, with an increasing number of brands and consumers from all over the world starting to take notice. Alibaba also makes a huge effort to hype up Double 11 with its extravagant, rather over-the-top Countdown Gala. Previous years have featured appearances from celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, Kobe Bryant, Scarlett Johansson, Mariah Carey, Pharrell Williams, Miranda Kerr, Jessie J and Lionel Messi. 

This year, the gala was headlined by Taylor Swift.

Where does New Zealand fit into all this?

New Zealand brands like Comvita and Fonterra are hugely popular among Chinese consumers, and on Singles’ Day 2018, New Zealand was ranked the ninth-largest country/region selling to China by GMV (up from 14th in 2017). Arguably, the most successful New Zealand brand from that day was A2 Milk, which was ranked the sixth-biggest brand imported into China. Health and beauty brands like Antipodes and Ecostore have also been standout sellers in previous years. 

For the most part, awareness of Singles’ Day among New Zealanders is still relatively low. According to a survey from PriceSpy, almost three-quarters (73%) of Kiwis have never heard of Singles’ Day, with just 12% of Kiwis reporting having bought something during the world’s biggest shopping event.

However, historical data suggests that New Zealand retailers are gradually starting to get behind the day by offering significant discounts. Last year, over a third of products (34%) listed on PriceSpy were discounted on Singles’ Day 2018, including TVs, mobile phones and barbecues. Meanwhile, major retailers like Harvey Norman, The Warehouse, Noel Leeming, Michael Hill, Bendon Lingerie and many more are hosting their own dedicated 11.11 sales.

So if you’re keen to get ahead on your Christmas shopping (and can’t wait until Black Friday at the end of the month), today might just be the best time to start.


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