11 Insights From 11/11, Alibaba’s Singles’ Day And The World’s No. 1 Shopping Day


(Source: forbes.com | November 12, 2018)

China’s successful online shopping frenzy “Double 11” has now spread across the globe and even influenced many Asian countries to launch the same one-day sale including the Philippines, with Lazada, which recently obtained 15% more sales in its 11.11 sale event compared to regular shopping operations.

Here are some insights from Executive Director Jon Bird of the Global Retail & Shopper Marketing at VMLY&R on why it has been successful and continues to grow in the last 10 years:
1. It’s no longer “Singles’ Day”; it’s 11/11. The day started in the early 1990s on Chinese college campuses as a celebration for singles. (When written numerically, 11/11 looks like “bare sticks,” which is an expression for those not in a relationship.) Alibaba co-opted the idea in 2009 and turned it into a one-day price-off promotion all about self-gifting. But as Alibaba CMO Chris Tung told us, it’s “evolved to become something totally different.” So the event has been rebranded and redefined as a shopping festival under the banner of “Double 11.”

2. It’s not just a single day; it’s a 20-day festival. The ramp-up to this year’s 11/11 was planned with military precision and featured multiple layers and a series of tentpole “countdown events.” The first was the “See Now Buy Now” fashion show, an interactive, live-streamed four-hour fashion show, broadcast across 10 platforms.

Ten days out, Alibaba launched another show, revealing the “must-buy recommendation list,” which was designed to be spread on social media. The content of the show centered on 50 sales reps, each given 90 seconds to convince the audience their product is the best. These were super salespeople—“the top of the top,” Tung says. “Some rap the product benefits; others perform magic.”

It all culminated with the 11/11 Gala, a four-hour broadcast that made its way not only onto Alibaba’s platforms like Youku (which produced the show) but also terrestrial TV stations. More than any other, this annual event cements the reputation of Double 11 as the “Superbowl of Shopping,” and appropriately, it’s held in Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena.

3. It’s not just passive retail; it’s interactive entertainment and sport. Alibaba sees old-school retail as, well, boring, and Double 11 is the pinnacle expression of a conscious shift from transactional selling to experiential shopping. Consumers don’t just watch and buy; they take part in highly immersive ways. Often this is via Alibaba’s Taobao or the Tmall app on their phone; Asian consumers in particular are welded to their mobile devices.

At the 11/11 Gala, for example, audience participants and viewers are asked to vote on show outcomes, play games to win special offers (e.g. mirror the emoji faces), and shake their devices to reveal “red packets” to earn credits and deals for Double 11. Outside of the Gala, there are interactive treasure hunts and augmented reality games.

4. It’s no longer purely a China event; it’s going global. Alibaba’s stated long-term goal is to get half of its sales from overseas, and 11/11 is increasingly a worldwide celebration. After Alibaba took control of Singapore’s Lazada, shoppers in six Southeast Asian countries could join in on this year’s Double 11, including Vietnam and Thailand. Further afield, promotions targeted millions of Chinese consumers in the U.S. and Australia, via delivery platform AliExpress.

5. It’s not just digital; it’s physical. While Double 11 is primarily conducted online, Alibaba is working hard to make it an omnichannel experience.

6. It’s not a single site; it’s an ecosystem. Alibaba proudly proclaimed that its ecosystem was “all-in” for 11/11. Beyond Tmall, China’s top B2C e-commerce marketplace, that included C2C site Taobao, Singapore’s Lazada, services delivery platform Ele.me, Rural Taobao (a service center initiative to expand coverage to rural areas), Ling Shou Tong (the tech platform powering 200,000 mom-and-pop convenience stores), Freshippo and more. On the back end, AliCloud and the Cainiao Smart Logistics network ensured it all ran smoothly.

7. It’s not just price-off; it’s about product launches. Deals abound during 11/11, but it’s not purely a sales event. Chris Tung says that Alibaba asks itself, “How do we design a stage to enable products to shine?” Sometimes that’s a literal stage, as in the 11/11 Gala. Other times, though, it involves providing a platform for new product launches. Because of its scale and focus, “11/11 has become the most efficient way to launch new products,” commented Tung.

8. It’s not clearing old stock; it’s about innovation. Via the Tmall Innovation Center, Alibaba works with brands, supplying data and insights to help create new products and packaging expressly for 11/11. This runs the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous (to Western eyes and tastes, anyway).

9. It’s not just tactical; it’s strategic. The event has achieved such significance that most brands start the planning cycle at least nine months out, with some companies integrating the program into three-year strategic plans. So this is not about engineering last-minute deals; it’s about long-term planning.

10. It’s not just a competition for consumers; it’s an “Olympics for brands” in the digital era. The image of a typical sale is shoppers fighting to the death over the sales rack. And there are elements of that in 11/11: a scarcity of deals, encouraging consumers to compete and “win.” But on the business side, it’s become a fight to the death for brands to achieve prime placement in 11/11. There are only so many top spots in the event, and companies have to be highly creative and innovative in the constructs and activations they submit to and plan with Alibaba. You don’t want to be left behind because that could affect your entire year’s sales.

11. It’s not only about acquiring sales; it’s also about acquiring data. Alibaba analyzes the oceans of data that emerge from 11/11 (as an aside, its real-time data visualization in the media center was stunning). After Double 11, brands get access to the data from their sales (aggregated and anonymized), which can be mined to great effect for the other 11 months of the year.

The 11/11 Global Shopping Festival is unique and provides lessons for the rest of retail in how to build excitement and engagement with today’s consumer. In his closing remarks at the event, incoming chairman Daniel Zhang noted that 46% of 11/11 sales came from customers born in the 1990s and later—Millennials and Gen Z. This blend of retail and entertainment, of innovation and commercial pragmatism is fresh and appeals to a younger generation and mindset.


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