Single-minded shoppers

America's big retail day is Black Friday. China has one too: Singles' Day


18 Nov 2011
Week in China

"There will not be a happy Guangdong without local residents having happy sex lives," Zhang Feng, deputy secretary-general of the Guangdong provincial government, was quoted as saying on the eve of national Singles' Day last Friday (so designated because the date is 11.11, i.e. lots of 'single' digits).

As it turns out, more than 20% of single people suffer from a feeling of sexual repression in Guangdong, says Zhang. He should know. He's also director of Guangdong's family planning commission and chairman of the Guangdong Sexology Association.

Sounds like someone to avoid in an elevator at all costs. But Zhang may not need to fret, as many of those lacking a contented sex life have been turning to the internet for some retail therapy.

Rather like America's Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), Singles' Day has fast become one of China's biggest retail events of the year.

"My Singles' Day started with clicks of the mouse," Wang Shanli, a shopper, told Xinhua, adding that she began searching for bargains on Taobao Mall (rebranded as Tmall) a week ago and stored her favourites in her online shopping cart so not to waste time snapping things up once the promotion began.

...over 500 merchants made more than Rmb1 million in sales on Tmall on that day alone. Clothing retailers were the biggest individual winners...
– Communications World Weekly

Sales were huge, with shoppers like Wang spending Rmb3.4 billion ($519 million) at Tmall's 50% 'All-Out Sale' on Singles' Day, compared with Rmb936 million a year ago. Communications World Weekly reported that over 500 merchants made more than Rmb1 million in sales on Tmall on that day alone. Clothing retailers were the biggest individual winners, with local fashion brands such as CXG pulling in Rmb40 million on their Tmall storefronts. "We have uploaded products worth Rmb60 million to the system to ensure consumers can get what they want," explained Hong Yan, an online store manager at local apparel brand Mark Fairwhale on Tmall. Hong said the revenue target for the day was Rmb20 million.

Industry insiders say Taobao started planning the Singles' Day promotion six months ago, with discussions with their largest merchants to help them figure out logistics in anticipation of the huge sales volume. Last year shoppers complained that goods took more than two weeks to arrive.

This year Tmall mobilised more than 40,000 people to deliver the products after the event. But there still seem to have been backlogs in some areas. "Our orders suddenly increased by 10 times in this one-day promotion. We normally promised to ship the package out within 24 hours but it took us 3 days working around the clock to send out all the packages," Wang Qinghai, one of the merchants on Tmall, complained to Southern Metropolis Daily. "Because of the slow delivery, some customers have demanded a refund, which also affects the store's reputation."

Analysts say Singles' Day proves the purchasing power of younger consumers.

"It is not a traditional Chinese festival, so it is mainly celebrated by young people," Wang Ningyuan, an analyst from CIC Industry Research Centre, told the China Daily. "The online shopping model is widely accepted by the younger generation and some of them have good purchasing power. As a result, when online stores mount promotions for Singles' Day there is a big surge in sales."

But what about a surge in romance? Guangdong sexologist Zhang might well wonder whether Singles' Day is a bit of a disappointment, with so many singletons home alone on their laptops, rather than bumping into their potential partners at the shops.

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