The double 11 shopping festival, also known as Singles’ Day, has grown from humble beginnings into a global phenomenon. Originally taking place on the 11th November each year, the festival is now one of the largest online shopping events in the world; a month long extravaganza with sales reaching billions of pounds.

Once it was known for the lowest prices of the year and record breaking sales turnovers, however things have moved on in the past couple of years.

The Origins of the Double 11 Shopping Festival

It’s now the world’s largest online shopping event, generating billions of dollars in sales every year. But where did it all begin? The festival originated in China in the 1990s as a day for single people to celebrate their independence. However, it wasn’t until 2009 when Alibaba’s Tmall platform transformed the day into a celebration of consumerism, offering discounts and promotions to drive sales.

The first year saw a modest $7.8 million in sales, but the festival’s popularity grew rapidly in the following years, with more brands and consumers getting involved. In 2012, the festival surpassed Cyber Monday in terms of sales, and by 2019, it reached a record-breaking $38.4 billion in sales. Those numbers are the Tmall/Taobao GMV (gross merchandise value) numbers so they show the value of the goods sold based on their list price. Obviously there are huge discounts though and also lots of returns.

Singles Day has not only revolutionised e-commerce in China but has also become a global phenomenon, with other countries and platforms adopting the concept as well as it spilling over into offline sales. So whilst it started in the very early days as a purely Alibaba promotion, it rapidly spread to all the other sales channels.

Exploring the Phenomenon of Chinese E-commerce and Its Impact on the Global Market

Exploring the phenomenon of Chinese e-commerce and its impact on the global market is crucial to understanding the evolution of this event. With the rise of online shopping, China has become a dominant force in the e-commerce world, with platforms such as Tmall and leading the way.

The growth of e-commerce in China has not only transformed the way Chinese consumers shop, but it has also had a significant impact on the global market. The Double 11 Shopping Festival, or Singles’ Day, has become the world’s largest online shopping event, with Bain estimating that sales reached over €143 billion across all industries and platforms in 2023. This event has attracted brands from all over the world, who see it as an opportunity to reach Chinese consumers and increase their sales.

The graphic below shows estimates though as there’ve been no exact published figures for the last years (and seeing as anything published is in the form of GMV anyway, where you can guess how much discount there was then it’s all relative!)

development of GMV during the double 11 shopping festival
Source: Bain

The festival has also had a significant impact on travel, with many Chinese consumers using the day to purchase travel tickets at discounted rates.

And it’s not only the Chinese who are buying during double 11 campaigns although this post mainly focuses on China. Overall, the Singles Day has demonstrated the power of Chinese e-commerce and its ability to shape the global market. Even in Europe in the last few years certain retailers have run 11.11 promotions and in the ecommerce landscape of South East Asia these are also omnipresent.

Shopee Singles day 2023 advertising
Shopee Singles day 2023 advertising

How the Double 11 Shopping Festival Evolved Over Time

2019 was probably the last of the “old style” of 11.11 based on discounts and a gala style. After all there are limits to the discounts, extra coupons and clever promotional mechanisms that brands can offer.

Many brands, especially for imported products, had reached a point where they had to be involved (the festival meant up to 50% of their annual online Chinese turnover & the platforms forced them to participate) but they made a loss due to the huge discounts required. It wasn’t just pure discount, it was also free shipping, coupons for cross-promotional products or your next order on the platform and many extremely complicated promotional mechanisms which were a bit of a nightmare to administer and calculate.

Since that time, the ecommerce market in Asia (not only China but primarily driven by China) has been evolving fast. Alibaba has lost market share to platforms such as Douyin, live streaming became a huge phenomenon and the effects of a pandemic have meant that the public are used to being able to buy at the cheapest price all year round.

11.11 had to reinvent itself in order to retain its relevance.

Technology’s Role in Shaping the Evolution of Singles Day

Technology has played a significant role in shaping this evolution of the Double 11 Shopping Festival. With the rise of e-commerce, the festival has grown from a small event for singles to a global phenomenon with sales surpassing those of Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. You could say it served as a key inspiration for Amazon’s Prime Day.

Online platforms such as Tmall, owned by Alibaba, have played a critical role in the festival’s growth, providing consumers with easy access to a vast range of products at discounted prices. Brands have also leveraged technology to drive sales, with new marketing techniques such as live streaming and virtual reality becoming increasingly popular. Also on the back end, a sophisticated system is required to manage the logistics of delivering 5.26 billion parcels (2023) within a couple of weeks.

In recent years, the festival has expanded beyond just shopping, with travel and entertainment also becoming an essential part of the experience. As technology continues to advance, it’s likely that we will see even more innovation, further solidifying the event’s place as a global shopping extravaganza that continues to attract consumers from around the world.

the double 11 online shopping festival in Thailand
double 11 advert - singles day 2023

What was important in 2023?

Whilst shoppers were willing to spend money still, and regard Singles Day as one of their key purchasing moments in the year, for sure they have been looking for great value and more focused on getting a good deal.

Livestreaming was a less of a reason in itself to buy, although still important in terms of shoppertainment. This year consumers prioritised the quality of the products and their functionality – it was no longer enough for them to be sold by a popular livestreamer.

Branding has also played an important role and the festival is a great opportunity for brands to position themselves in the Chinese ecosystem and gain the attention of shoppers. Also, shoppers are buying during the festival because they want to purchase your brand (ie as a result of work done over the previous months) rather than simply as a reaction to a clever campaign or cheap price.

Consumers have become more sophisticated in their needs and so brands need to re-evaluate how they manage such mega-shopping festivals for the future. You have to calculate as exactly as possible what each additional discount will cost you and consider how you can bring the most value to your consumers.

Generative AI

It had to be here right?

Alibaba has applications to help create more interactive content as well as supporting consumers with AI powered search.

Other tools allow brands to create a digital avatar or short promotional videos. It helped to increase the click through rates by 30%. There were also the AI virtual influencers (perhaps not surprising after the scandals involving Viya or Li Jiaqi) who brands such as Jo Malone, Estee Lauder or L’oreal used.

Is Double 11 dead?

Last year there were a lot of discussions around this topic and many brands were frankly cheesed off with moving huge volumes of products during this kind of shopping festival, especially Singles Day, but not actually making any money.

It seems that things have turned the corner a little though this time round and sentiment is more positive generally (even though especially China is in a difficult financial year).

More than 200 luxury brands joined the festival on Tmall including, for the first time, Gucci. The success tactics of these brands were launching new products, selling limited editions, co-branded items and otherwise out of stock blue-chip pieces. Valentino even achieved 600% growth this year, proving that whilst buyers’ sentiment is generally relatively cautious, with the right offers you can still sell.

With improving living standards and deeper knowledge and education of luxury brands, young consumers are boosting heritage houses and designer brands’ sales during Singles’ Day. For first-time buyers, Double 11 remains a unique opportunity to purchase their desired luxury pieces with discounts or installment offerings and even receive complementary gifts.

Jing Daily

In beauty, for the first time Chinese brand Proya headed the list, pushing Estee Lauder and L’Oreal off the top spots.

Other successful categories included jewellery, watches, sportswear (a knock on effect of the Winter Olympics in Beijing) and underwear, with brands such as Victoria’s Secret. Also pet care is still growing fast with items such as “cat companion butlers” to keep your mog company whilst you are out of the house.

The Global Reach of Today’s Double 11 Shopping Festival

The promotion has come a long way from its humble beginnings in China. Today, it has become a global phenomenon, with consumers all around the world eagerly waiting for November 11th to grab the best deals and discounts on their favourite brands. The festival has not only become a significant sales day for Chinese e-commerce platforms like Tmall, but it has also created new growth opportunities for businesses across the world, especially those where Chinese e-commerce giants have invested. eg Lazarda or Shopee.

As the festival continues to evolve, it has expanded beyond just online shopping to include travel and other industries. In recent years, more and more international brands have joined the festival, recognising the potential of tapping into the world’s largest consumer market. Double 11 has become a symbol of the power of e-commerce and the changing nature of consumer behaviour in the world today. As the festival continues to grow, it will be exciting to see what new innovations and technologies will shape its future.

From Humble Beginnings to a Worldwide Phenomenon

In conclusion, the Double 11 Shopping Festival has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a celebration of singlehood to becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Its growth has been fuelled by the constant evolution of e-commerce in China, which has revolutionised the way consumers shop and interact with brands.

As the festival has grown, so have the sales figures, with online platforms like Tmall or reporting record-breaking sales year after year (although since 2022 no precise sales numbers are reported). The festival has also expanded beyond just shopping, with travel and entertainment becoming an integral part of it and extending to a 19 day event rather than just the one day. Other platforms such as Douyin and Xiaohongshu play an increasingly important role in the sales during the festival.

Technology has played a crucial role in shaping the evolution of the festival, with innovations like livestreaming and virtual reality enhancing the shopping experience, but also driving the logistics innovations that enable such huge numbers of packages to be delivered within a couple of days.

Consumers have become more sophisticated in China and the platforms where offers can be found are diversifying. The “new consumers” are to be found in lower tier cities so for many brands the festival also represents the chance to reach a new audience.

Today, the Double 11 Shopping Festival has a global reach, with consumers from all over the world participating in the sales. It has become a symbol of the power and potential of e-commerce, and a testament to China’s growing influence in the world of technology and innovation. As we look to the future, it is clear that whilst new sales records may (or may not) continue to be made each year, the festival will continue to evolve, bringing new opportunities for brands and consumers alike.

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