Singles’ Day: The largest e-commerce day you haven’t heard about

Tue, 27/11/2018 - 08:55

Singles’ Day in China is the world’s largest e-commerce event, bigger even than Black Friday. For all the hype around Black Friday, there’s a sale that’s even larger that few South Africans have heard about.

With sales last year double that of the US’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined, China’s Singles’ Day, on November 11, is the world’s largest e-commerce event. Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma made the day what it is, starting off in 2009 with an event akin to Amazon’s Prime Day. Now it’s bigger, much bigger. Sales last year started with a massive $1bn in the first two minutes, culminating in $17.8bn spent on the day.

Can SA e-tailers use Singles’ Day to spark a local shopping spree, or perhaps initiate our own day, similar to this?

Getting a head start

Singles’ Day is not well-known locally. It seemed to have started at a Chinese university as a day celebrating those who are single, with the date (11/11) containing many “singles”. South Africans who shop on e-commerce platform AliExpress, owned by Alibaba, might have noticed Singles’ Day being heavily promoted through the app, but apart from this there’s not much else locally that gives away the day’s significance. Can this change as Singles’ Day grows?

Perhaps, with local media last year reporting on the success of the day, it could just happen that through hype, Singles’ Day, much like Black Friday, crosses the pond and finds a local foothold. This might not be a bad thing , since it’s the large e-tailers with big budgets that get the most attention on Black Friday. If smaller companies start picking up on Singles’ Day, they could get a head start on specials, particularly as Singles’ Day is on November 11 while Black Friday is on the last Friday of November and already saturated with deals.

But perhaps, instead adopting overseas sales days, shouldn’t local retailers look at creating one of our own? South Africans are proud of our heritage and having a market day could do much to spark interest without having to piggyback off global trends. What about an event to drive online sales on Heritage Day?

Tips from Singles’ Day

Before this gets started, it’s worth taking a few tips from Singles’ Day. The biggest lesson to be learnt? Get mobile right. For many South Africans their primary way to connect to the web is their phones. Many local e-tailers, however, still consider mobile an explore channel rather than a sales channel. It doesn’t help that a 16-digit credit card number is required to transact, but as more and more mobile wallets and other payment solutions become available, South Africans will increasingly use their smartphones to buy.

During Singles’ Day 2017, Alibaba’s mobile wallet, Alipay processed 256,000 payments per second.

The power of the phone should also not be underestimated when it comes to marketing. Personalising marketing messages is key and keeping track of data on your customers to do so is essential. Many e-tailers are finding that their apps play a crucial role during the sales experience. This is not only because websites can be a pain to use on a small screen, but also because apps allow you to geofence a customer through location data. Who are your customers, where are they located, what are they buying and when – all essential information for more personalised marketing.

Whether Singles’ Day will ever get the traction that Black Friday has locally is debatable. But it can give smaller retailers a step up on the big guys, being able to use the 11th of the 11th to get their deals out earlier. SA companies will do well to turn east and take a few lessons from Ma and Alibaba on how to create an e-commerce sensation.

*This article originally appeared on Financial Mail.

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