What is Singles’ Day?

What is Double Eleven / Singles’ Day?

Double Eleven is China’s largest online shopping day which happens every year on 11 November. In English it’s sometimes referred to as Eleven-Eleven (11.11), “Singles’ Day” or most frequently Double Eleven, which is the literal translation from Chinese (双十一).

Contrary to what a lot of sites say, Double Eleven is not a holiday. Everybody goes to work. People like us in the e-commerce industry work overnight.

This shopping event was first started by Alibaba’s Tmall in 2009 and eventually grew to become the world’s largest online shopping festival. Tmall marketed the event heavily over the years and it has since become a nationwide event where all platforms participate. This includes other e-commerce giants like JD.com and Pinduoduo and short video/live-streaming platforms like Douyin (ie. Tiktok’s China version) and Kuaishou which both now also have their own e–commerce capabilities.

Cultural Significance of Double Eleven

Double Eleven started as a fun way for single people to celebrate being single. Legend has it that it started with 4 guys who shared a dorm room in Nanjing University. None of them had girlfriends and on this day they decided to celebrate instead of being depressed about their situation. The date consisting of only 1’s best represented that.

While the exact origin of Double Eleven cannot be confirmed, today everyone recognises it as THE shopping day of China and closely associate it with Tmall.

People are bombarded by Tmall ads in October everywhere they go. Alibaba also hosts a huge Gala every year on the night of 10 November as they countdown towards midnight. In the past, they’ve invited stars like Pharrell Williams and Taylor Swift to perform.

Double Eleven By The Numbers

Double Eleven started as a fun way for single people to celebrate being single. Legend has it that it started with 4 guys who shared a dorm room in Nanjing University. None of them had girlfriends and on this day they decided to celebrate instead of being depressed about their situation. The date consisting of only 1’s best represented that.

While the exact origin of Double Eleven cannot be confirmed, today everyone recognises it as THE shopping day of China and closely associate it with Tmall.

People are bombarded by Tmall ads in October everywhere they go. Alibaba also hosts a huge Gala every year on the night of 10 November as they countdown towards midnight. In the past, they’ve invited stars like Pharrell Williams and Taylor Swift to perform.

JD is growing but Tmall is still the king

While every source reports slightly different numbers, they all agree on one thing: Tmall (Taobao) is still the king. It has always accounted for more than half of total e-commerce in China. Over the years, JD and PDD have gradually captured some of that market share, but nowhere close to Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao.

This is how we performed on Double Eleven 2021

While growth has stagnated in recent years, that doesn’t mean brands cannot achieve extraordinary success.

The brands we serve have had a 300% increase in YOY GMV, entered top 10 rankings in their categories and doubled conversion rates.

Double Eleven Event Format & Structure

When Double Eleven first started, it was a 1-day event. All purchases took place on 11 Nov. so everyone had to refresh their page over and over at midnight to try and get the best deals.

But this has evolved to become a marathon sales event spread out across several weeks. In Tmall, the most popular items are sold in pre-sales where shoppers put down a deposit to commit to a purchase and settle the rest of the bill on 11 November.

In 2021, Tmall broke down the event further into two rounds of sales. Each round had a pre-sales period and ended with a settlement day to close transactions. Today, all major e-commerce platforms follow this same structure. In the image below, you can see how Douyin, Kuaishou, Suning, JD, Tmall and PDD (from top to bottom) all have some variation of this 2-round sales structure. The first round of sales start in mid/late October (shown in grey) and the second round is the main event ending on 11 Nov. (shown in red).

Image source: Eastmoney.com

How do they deliver a billion parcels?

It’s rather surprising that the logistics actually work for such a huge event. Over a billion parcels were shipped on 11 Nov. in 2021.

The pre-sale format really helps alleviate the stress on logistics as parcels are dispatched close to the final destination long before 11 Nov. But it is still a gruelling time for the couriers.

Alibaba doesn’t run any of the logistics themselves. They integrate with all the major couriers like SF express, YTO, ZTO etc. Double Eleven puts them on emergency status. Tmall has a disclaimer that deliveries may be slower for Double Eleven but still puts a hard deadline of 25 Nov. so the pressure is on.

JD on the other hand has its own logistics infrastructure. That’s the one place they invested in even throughout all the years they were losing money. They have 20 thousand delivery guys and 1200 warehouses with many of them working 24/7. That’s why they have unmatched delivery speeds in major cities.

Live-streaming on Double Eleven

Live-streaming has become an integral part of ecommerce and Double Eleven is no exception. Top-tier KOLs like Austin Li and (formerly) Viya hve made a killing. During the first round’s opening night of pre-sales alone, the two of them generated ¥2bn ($3bn USD) in sales.

Furthermore, exclusive discounts were offered to shoppers who attended the live-streams, driving the FOMO-induced rage in purchases during the events.

Not all brands executed their live-streams smoothly, however. L’Oreal got itself into some hot water during last year’s Double Eleven live-stream, whre a mask product was actually being sold at a greater price than usual. Consumers complained that, contrary to a promise the brand made earlier, a L’Oreak mask purchased during Li and Viya’s live-streams cost 66% more than listed on the brand’s official Tmall store. The masks were sold for ¥429 ($67 USD) during Li and Viya’s pre-sales live-stream on 20 October, whereas the same masks were sold on both L’Oreal’s official Tmall store and official live-stream on 11 November for ¥257.7 ($40 USD).

As a result, both Li and Viya issued statements declaring the suspension of all collaboration with L’Oreal until the brand resolved the issue, and also announced that they would provide compensation package for their customers if L’Oreal failed to provide a solution within 24 hours.