Would you guess that Black Friday, or perhaps the Saturday before Christmas, tops the charts for online and offline shopping? You’d be wrong.  The day that draws sales of over $25 billion is China’s Singles Day, which is celebrated on November 11.

The fact that this holiday didn’t even exist until 1993 is indicative of how things can change in our retail world.  A bit of background, courtesy of The Telegraph: “Known in China as “bare sticks holiday” because of how it looks numerically, Singles Day began as an anti-Valentine’s Day in the 1990s when students at Nanjing University started celebrating their singledom.  It was then adopted by e-commerce giant Alibaba (China’s Amazon equivalent) in 2009 and it has now become a day when everyone, regardless of their single status buys themselves gifts.”

Much of the huge growth of this holiday has been driven by the deep discounts and special offers that are focused on Singles Day, similar to Black Friday sales.  The popularity of the event is also based on the positive way in which it celebrates the single status of many young adults in China, especially the men who are without spouses because of the one child policy.  Click here to see a wonderful explanation of the rise of Singles Day in comic form on the Tech in Asia site.

To my mind the single most interesting factor (pardon the pun) behind the success of Singles Day is the fact that consumers are for the most part not buying things to give to others.  That makes it significantly different from Valentine’s Day or Christmas, which are of course the biggest driving factors in the American sales calendar.  Stores and online retailers — especially the giant Alibaba — do phenomenally well on November 11 because everyone is shopping for goods for themselves.

Will Singles Day go global, as some predict? Probably not, although you never know. But it would be great to figure out a way to let consumers feel that they deserve to treat themselves, instead of just splurging when buying gifts for others.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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