Black Friday vs Singles Day.

Two statistic-smashing shopping events that bookend the month of November. Originating in the US and China respectively, the two festivals have become known across the globe as days of hedonistic splurging, filled with flash sales and eye-catching promotions. For retailers, Black Friday and Singles Day are both excellent opportunities to engage with audiences and boost brand value. With potentially record-breaking sales, retailers would be wise to engage, but when it comes to bottom line, one is clearly the winner.

While China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba broke records with $30.8bn in Singles Day sales last year, Black Friday brought disappointment for UK retailers, who observed a decrease in spending from 2017 and left them wondering where they went wrong?

China’s Singles Day, a day to celebrate singledom, is now undisputedly the biggest shopping event in the world, generating over double the sales of Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. Even against a backdrop of slowing economic growth, Chinese retailers encouraged consumers to part with 27% more than in the previous year. So, what is China doing right? And how can UK retailers learn from them to boost seasonal sales?

Singles Day is far more than just a day of discounts; it’s an all-permeating, 24-hour bonanza that blurs the boundaries between retail and entertainment.

First, Singles Day is far more than just a day of discounts; it’s an all-permeating, 24-hour bonanza that blurs the boundaries between retail and entertainment. Alibaba, the corporate mastermind behind the festival’s success, opens each Singles Day with a televised star-studded four-hour gala that draws the attention of international media – and over 200 million eager shoppers – before the clock has struck twelve.

Faced with a nation of digitally native consumers who expect far more than the usual high-street shopping experience, Chinese retailers understand the importance of engaging customers around more than just the transaction. This is evident in Singles Day mobile commerce strategies; customers aren’t just asked to watch and spend, they’re encouraged to search for in-app treasure, shake their phones to unlock credits, and put their brains to the test. One memorable example came from Farfetch who launched a campaign that required users to fill in the blanks to reveal brand names, with correct answers earning points that could be exchanged for entries to win a designer bag. With this in mind, there’s a definite gap for British retailers to take advantage of seasonal opportunities and create engaging and thought-provoking campaigns, across channels to drive longer lasting connections between buyers and brands.

Singles Day encourages people to celebrate singledom by spending money on themselves, and Chinese brands capitalise on this by running targeted and personalised campaigns that offer buyers exactly what they want, where they want it. Here, the availability of sophisticated data insights is crucial; Alibaba collects thousands of data points from across its vast ecosystem and shares them with brands which sell through its platforms, providing them with the ability to place targeted ads in the most effective channels.

Taking advantage of the urge to splurge, Chinese companies offer personalised, limited-edition Singles Day products. This strategy is particularly popular amongst luxury goods companies, who want to take part in the action without associating with the mass-market discount mêlée. Last year, Guerlain took Singles Day personalisation to the next level by sending sales reps to China to offer two-hour appointments with guest-listed luxury shoppers to make their own perfumes. Whilst this may not convert to big sales numbers on the day, luxury brands reap the rewards of cultivating close relationships with Singles Day shoppers throughout the year. In a time where UK shoppers are growing increasingly sceptical of seasonal deals, retailers should heed this strategy to make a lasting impression with individuals.

But perhaps the key takeaway for British retailers is actually just getting involved. The sheer scale of the Chinese market means there is huge opportunity for brands to make big wins. For both sales growth and brand awareness, Singles Day provides the ideal environment for foreign brands to get a foothold in China, without committing to long-term market entry. By adopting a design thinking and rapid prototyping approach, brands can navigate the complex challenges of new geographic market entry, enabling them to develop and learn quickly along the way.

With Singles Day ramping up international expansion plans, there couldn’t be a better time for foreign entrants to make their Chinese e-commerce debut.

British Brands take note: It’s time to show Singles Day some love.