What the world can learn from China’s 11.11 Sales

China's Single's Day or 11.11 dwarfs the biggest sale days the world over including the more well publicised Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States. Martech firm iClick Interactive highlights a few best practices that can be adopted by the rest of the world when it comes to the use of technology, content and marketing

Ever since the first Single’s Day or 11.11 sale began in China in 2009, every year, there would be plenty of commentary explaining the phenomenon to an international audience. This doesn’t appear to be necessary any more.

In its tenth edition, the event has grown into the world’s largest shopping festival where 180,000 brands participate and consumers take less than two hours to spend a phenomenal 100 billion yuan ($14.5 billion).

It is an event in its own right. Not an imitation, but something that that consistently pushes the boundaries in terms of content, tie-ins and consumption. In 2012, sales for Single’s Day first surpassed Cyber Monday and Black Friday in the US.

And so effectively targeting buying power has been a focus for many international marketers. Given the volume of purchases and the willingness of Chinese consumers to embrace new technologies, it is also a true testing ground for brand owners.

iClick has observed three major changes during this year’s 11.11.

  1. Mini-programs take centre stage

For brands and retailers, mini-programs have become a core marketing channel. Considering WeChat’s active user traffic of one billion, this comes as no surprise. Within WeChat’s ecosystem, mini-programs provide connectivity between social, content and payment. For example, retailers in a shopping mall can distribute free parking vouchers using mini-programs and they will be able to generate information on the arrival time and spending habits, as well as which customers own a car.

According to official figures from WeChat, as of July 2018, it had over one million mini-programs with users opening them four times per day on average.

A survey by China’s big data service provider QuestMobile has identified the most important functions of a mini-program: effectively combining online and offline activities; sharing customer information; serving as a standalone e-commerce platform; and the ability to combine the physical aspects of a promotional campaign with social marketing.

According to Yan Lee, head of international at iClick: “Mini-programs provide the ideal tool for enterprises undergoing an intelligent transformation to be competitive in the new retail environment. Retailers now have an unmatched level of customer insight which they can leverage to develop new traffic, enhance business operations and dramatically advance their retail upgrade.”

  1. Growth in short videos

To get the most out of 11.11, a significant number of iClick’s clients launched marketing campaigns both in the lead-up, and during the festival. Data reveals clients who used short video sharing platforms, such as TikTok and Kuaishou, received the majority of the 11.11 targeted advertising traffic.

Lee said: “No other marketing platform has caught our attention quite like video. Advertisers are placing great importance on the production and use of video creatives and during 11.11 it was simply a case of no video, no marketing.”

  1. Community is king

In China there are Social+ platforms that present a lucrative opportunity for both content and word-of-mouth marketing. Xiaohongshu, which is backed by Alibaba, has 150 million users consisting of the social media generation born in the 90s. They use the platform like Facebook and are highly influenced by shopping tips and insight from celebrities.

A completely different interest group is Babytree, an online parenting platform that uses a similar vertical marketing model and presents another attractive opportunity for advertisers.

These platforms provide an engaging forum for like-minded people and are realising the tangible benefits of teaming up with major e-commerce operators.

All the above changes highlight how brands and consumers are moving away from purely a transactional shopping experience. Instead, it’s more collaborative and relationship-based, changing the dynamics of e-commerce. There is ample evidence of this phenomenon developing in other markets.

Lessons from the East

At $30.8 billion, the online sales of 11.11 surpassed this year’s figures for Black Friday ($6.22 billion) and Cyber Monday ($7.9 billion) in the US. But both these figures for the US represent a 24% and 20% respective increase on last year.

While the results illustrate a gap in retail ecosystems between the two largest economies, there is clearly a growing preference by US consumers for digital channels rather than elbowing through crowded stores the day after their Thanksgiving dinner.

In a poll by Periscope By McKinsey in October 2018, roughly a month before the sales, nearly half of the respondents (48%) said that they plan to shop more online while fewer (28%) said they plan to do so in-store.

China’s highly sophisticated online shopping behaviour has leapfrogged the development of retail that has been commonplace in most Western countries. In doing so, it now sets the world standard in e-commerce.

Any marketers who want to successfully compete in this huge and attractive market need to be digital and mobile led in their strategies. But 11.11 does not just represent an opportunity for sales in China. The trends and habits should be understood as they will provide the inspiration for other markets where online spending is also growing.

Brands that can adapt these successful models may well be able to transfer success.


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