singles day

We live in an era when companies need to adopt strategies from around the globe — and holiday retail is no exception. Western brands should pay close attention to the e-commerce innovation that came out of Singles Day, the world’s biggest shopping day that’s wildly popular in Asia. And they should figure out how they can not only fit into this retail extravaganza, but also how Singles Day strategies can be used in the Americas and Europe for the holiday season.

Singles Day, which takes place on Nov. 11 and represents a staggering example of e-commerce growth, is a good indicator for where retail is heading. This year, the shopping event generated $38.4 billion in sales for Alibaba Group alone, an increase of 26 percent compared to the prior year. In 2018, Singles Day generated $1 billion in the first 1 minute and 25 seconds.

Forward-thinking global brands are already tapping into the Singles Day phenomenon. British manufacturer Dyson last year launched its Airwrap hair-curling product exclusively that day, selling 1,500 units via Alibaba-owned Tmall in the first three minutes. Budweiser sold every single one of its 30,000 special-edition beer packages created for the event, and Johnson & Johnson unveiled fruity and floral flavors of Listerine.

For Chinese retailers like Alibaba, JD.com and Xiaomi, Singles Day is their event of the year. They’re showing the rest of the world that it’s more than a moment to offer discounts and unveil new products. As e-commerce becomes more integrated into everything we do — from purchasing directly through Instagram to buying laundry detergent via Amazon Alexa — retailers need to think beyond discrete channels. Events like Singles Day and Black Friday offer an opportunity for retailers is to create interactive experiences shoppers will remember. Let’s look at what Western brands can learn from what top Asian brands are doing to make the most out of this epic sales event.

Building Anticipation With Interactive Events

Alibaba, JD.com and Lazada focus on not just advertising, but also entertainment events, engaging customers on multiple digital platforms with star-studded content. Indeed, before Singles Day shopping begins, they host concerts and fashion shows that get viewed on multiple digital and streaming channels.

Amit Sharma

Amit Sharma, ceo and founder of Narvar.  Courtesy Image

But it’s not just about entertainment, as interactive sales are the real point. For instance, last year, the pre-shopping activities included a see-now-buy-now fashion show that let consumers buy items seen on fashion models, driving digital orders while helping build excitement leading up to Singles Day.

The actual day kicked off with a gala of performances in Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena, watched by 240 million viewers. It included appearances from Cirque du Soleil, Australian model Miranda Kerr and Mariah Carey. Western retailers should take note that Singles Day shoppers expect a little glitz with their gift shopping. And while not every brand can have a huge, televised parade like Macy’s annual affair on Thanksgiving, more retailers should tap the gala-focused mind-set to spur holiday sales.

Embracing a Beyond-Channels Mind-set

Even as mobile shopping and transactions grow, companies like Xiaomi demonstrate that retailers should think beyond channels. Last year the consumer electronics company grew its off-line Singles Day sales by 40 percent. Xiaomi accomplished this impressive spike by enticing shoppers to their stores, giving them the same discounts that were available online and advertising smart home products that are best experienced in person.

Brands should have a mobile and ground game to fully take advantage of this shopping event. Western brands should consider pop-up stores and other “IRL” shopping experiences. It’s a tactic Alibaba aggressively employs in China for Singles Day with dozens of such activations. Last year, direct-to-consumer retailers such as Brooklinen and Buffy, as well as bigger players like Wayfair and Google Hardware, featured pop-ups to generate holiday sales in New York City. From London to Los Angeles, expect more retailers to try pop-ups this holiday season.

Thinking Beyond Deals and Discounts

From a longer view, Singles Day shows that Chinese e-commerce platforms — compared to their Western counterparts — appear to be more innovative in their strategies. They are layering their campaigns with entertainment, events and pop-ups to engage consumers. American retailers can learn a lot from this holistic marketing mind-set while gaining customers.

In summation, Singles Day shows that retailers are in the business of keeping distracted consumers engaged and serving them where they are. Additionally, with big Western brands like Dyson, Budweiser and J&J starting to tap into Singles Day, we should expect to see other global brands attempt to capture a piece of this gigantic event. And what they learn from Asia’s retail spectacle should seep into their holiday marketing strategies in the Americas and Europe.

Amit Sharma is chief executive officer of Narvar.