HONG KONG — You’ve heard of Double Eleven, the world’s biggest online shopping day, and there’s 8/8, but today marks 7/7 or Qixi, otherwise known as Chinese Valentine’s Day.
For some, it can get quite confusing just keeping track. These dates have been created by companies either entirely or repurposed to some extent as a commercial occasion. Alibaba came up with Singles Day in 2009, taking the idea from university students and morphing it into a nearly $18 billion global event, while Aug. 8 is a new shopping festival fashioned this year by Wal-Mart and JD.com. Even a traditional holiday such as Qixi, which does have roots that date back to a Han Dynasty legend, is having new meaning instilled by big brands.
Qixi is the seventh day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar, which means it shifts every year. In 2017 it falls on Aug. 28. This year, Cartier is offering select customers romantic helicopter dates, while Coach put out special Selena Gomez-autographed bags, and Loewe jump-started its online partnership with Alibaba, producing a hearts-printed purse. Bvlgari, Dolce & Gabbana, Chloé and a long list of fashion brands all have special promotions for the occasion.
According to JD.com, the best-selling gifts for Qixi are fashion accessories, silver jewelry, bracelets and roses. August has seen strong growth in high-end jewelry and watches, with consumers buying luxury pieces for their loved ones, said JD.com’s president of fashion Xia Ding.
Twenty-two year old, Yu Xiaowen, a student living in Shanghai said she expects a gift from her boyfriend. “Maybe buy me flowers or something like jewelry,” she said. “We haven’t been together very long, so nothing too expensive.”
But she notes that it wasn’t something she grew up on. “I think a few years ago nobody even celebrated Qixi festival like this, but now there are ads everywhere and I think most people at least think about doing something.”
Like many Chinese couples, Chen Limin, 29, said he celebrates both Feb. 14 and Qixi with his significant other.
“I will take my girlfriend out for dinner and probably buy flowers as well,” he said, although he didn’t plan to get her another present. “I already bought her a present for Valentine’s Day. I think Valentine’s Day and Qixi are both like this ‘fake festival’ — there is not one that is an ‘authentic’ love festival, it’s just about encouraging consumers to buy things, like Singles Day. China is getting very good at ‘fake festivals’ maybe the best in the world.”
“I think that’s the beauty of China,” said Louis Houdart, the founder of branding agency Creative Capital. “On one side, it’s a country with lots of history, lots of culture and on the other side, it is becoming more international and consumerist. The result means for the brands, there are more opportunities to sell.”
“If there are deals out there, they’re happy to buy. It’s more becoming a commercial holiday, an excuse to go buy things,” said Renee Hartmann of China Luxury Advisors.
The risk with all these holidays, however, is that the consumer becomes conditioned to constant deals.
“If you keep bringing sales every couple of weeks, it has a negative effect which is that brands now have difficulties to sell full price because you keep getting your customer used to promotion after promotion,” Houdart said.
It’s also worth remembering that Double Eleven, the most successful commercial holiday created to date, began as a jab at romance and the frustration over the demands of modern dating.
An appeal to the individual and independent-minded shopper is an idea that brands could tap further into.
It’s an idea that resonates with Yu, at least. “Actually, I see ads for things that are [Qixi-related] and if I like them, I think about buying them for myself,” she said. “Maybe it’s a good opportunity to get a good deal on something that I would like to buy for myself anyway, it doesn’t have to be a present from my boyfriend.”