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Single and ready to mingle: Singles' Day, the new blockbuster shopping day

First came Black Friday, shortly followed by Cyber Monday – now, the latest international shopping event to make an impact on retailers' sales targets is Singles' Day. Although you may not be familiar with this day yet, it’s likely you will be soon – astonishingly, it generates more revenue than both the aforementioned shopping days combined.

The rise of Singles' Day

Beginning as a day (11 November) to celebrate singledom, it’s now a hugely popular shopping day across Asia – with its core market being China. To put its popularity into context, in China in 2017, more products were sold during the 24-hour period compared to the four-day Black Friday to Cyber Monday period. It was four times larger than Black Friday, with an incredible $1bn being spent in just the first two minutes after midnight.

While the day is suspected to have been started by a group of single students at Nanjing University, who chose the 11 November date due to its group of lone single ones, Alibaba has very much been the driving force behind the phenomenon. The company saw sales increase by 56% in the last three months of 2017 following a record breaking Singles' Day in 2017. Alibaba has turned the day into something of a spectacle, with celebrities (including David and Victoria Beckham) taking part in a gala event and its founder Jack Ma breaking into song. With Alibaba shares doubling in 2017, Jack most certainly has something to sing about. 

2018 marks the 10-year anniversary of the event, and it’s showing no signs of slowing. In 2017, Tmall (China's number one ranked B2C retail site) delivered 812 million products during its Singles' Day event. With parcels pipped to exceed an eye watering 1 billion this year, the strain on business’ logistics infrastructure certainly has the potential to break a few hearts.

What does this all mean for retailers?

Search volume for the day in the UK is still dwarfed by volumes seen in Asian markets (Econsultancy notes that in recent years, one in three Chinese consumers bought from an international brand on the day). However, there’s always an opportunity to make the most of the day as popularity grows – especially among expats living in the UK.

UK retailer Topshop has picked up on the popularity of Singles' Day and flirted with it somewhat, and even achieved a growth surge as a result in recent years.  

One key advantage when looking at the day in the UK is that there’s far less competition in terms of promotions, and those all-important CPCs, as a result. Offers and ad copy on the day will help to drive higher CTRs and increase conversion volume for those consumers in the know and seeking out Single’s Day offers. A recent study by Facebook cites that ‘11% of holiday shoppers in Turkey and 10% of holiday shoppers in Spain and Brazil’ actively shopped on Singles' Day in 2017, with numbers increasing in the UK.

It doesn’t feel like that long ago when UK consumers would look on bemused at the annual flurry of YouTube videos featuring American bargain hunters looking like they’re taking part in Wrestlemania. Today, Black Friday has been fully embraced on this this side of the Atlantic, with the post-Thanksgiving discount day quickly becoming a part of the annual shopping calendar.

While Singles' Day growth has been building organically over the last decade, 2018 will be the first time Alibaba actively pursues consumers outside of China. Whether or not it will be enough to give UK based retailers butterflies remains to be seen.

Mark Byrne is paid media performance director at Greenlight 

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