Alibaba doubles down on Singles’ Day: What e-tailers can learn from relevant themed-day success
Cara Wood | November 1, 2016
Takeaway: With Alibaba's Singles’ Day ecommerce event underway, and culminating on November 11, there’s a slew of merchandising and ecommerce lessons retailers can learn and implement before the Holiday 2016 ecommerce window closes.
It seems the story of Alibaba’s – the global ecommerce titan – 11/11 Singles’ Day sale is happenstance, the magical result of a simple, yet Zeitgeist-y marketing event to boost sales. And that’s not far off from the truth.
In China, where the event and the company originated, the newly empowered, wealthy, youthful, singles class established the unofficial “bare sticks holiday” in 1993 to celebrate and represent their singlehood – a counter to Valentine’s Day – aptly recognized on 11/11.
Alibaba, and their ecommerce sites, Tmall.com and Taobao.com saw an opportunity to thematically appeal to this proudly unmarried (and did we say rich?) consumer group. On November 11, 2009, with just 27 merchants participating, they dropped prices and minimum quantity requirements for 24 hours.
And then it exploded.
Last year, in just the first 90 minutes (that’s midnight to 1:30AM local time, mind you), Alibaba saw $5 billion in sales. For comparison, Cyber Monday, the largest ecommerce holiday in the United States, has capped at $3 billion in sales… for the whole day. As the 2015 Singles’ Day sale concluded, $14.3 billion was the tally (albeit a contested one). All in all, it showed a 57% sales increase from 2014, with 72% of transactions on mobile devices.
And this year, Alibaba has promised over 40,000 brands and merchants, and is projected to increase sales to $14.7 billion. Based on this unprecedented growth, there are many things for all retailers to learn, especially in light of the fact that baby brother Cyber Monday is just weeks away.
Know your consumer. As we pointed out last year, this is a commerce holiday with heart – one that has tapped into a consumer segment and their mindset. The sale isn’t contrived or forced to make sense. It clicks because consumers today choose retailers for brand attitude in addition to price and convenience.
Endless aisles still rule ecommerce. Two words as proof: Alibaba and Amazon. These behemoths run global ecommerce. And this year's Singles’ Day push to bring in more brands means they’re answering their consumers’ call for increased products and selection. But also, they have the technology and manufacturer cooperation to support such a mass undertaking. Which leads to the next point.
Customize and enrich content. Flexibility to add relevant keywords on a large scale and efficiently update creative help individual brands to stick out from the crowd, because that content propels merch to the top of relevant site search results. Help brands and manufacturers with this undertaking by providing ample time and clear instructions.
Data works. Alibaba expects to see many returning brands. Insights into how those products performed last year have helped brands and manufacturers set merchandise priorities. See what sold well. Look at reasons for returns. Investigate and remedy consumer search results that went unanswered.
Get out of your comfort zone. Have a sale idea, but it seems risky? Think Alibaba thought the quirky Singles’ Day sale would be a record maker? Try the idea and then improve upon it for next year. Either way the results go, they will help your ecommerce presence stand out from the rest on the very vanilla Cyber Monday.
Don’t over do it. Having a marketing event like Singles’ Day every week or month would lose its luster. Give consumers a GOOD something to mark on their calendars and then reign in the desire to exploit it. Alibaba, in expanding their format from 24 hours to 24 days this year, runs the risk of consumer apathy and lost urgency.
What made Singles’ Day so appealing in the first place was how organic the idea was. It made a seamless contribution to a significant cultural movement. The better you understand your core customer, the more you are able to meet their specific needs and spark their interest and imagination.