They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving Day here, of course, but Nov. 11, has become the biggest shopping day on the Chinese calendar.
That’s because it is known as “Singles Day” (11.11 – geddit?) – a type of Valentine’s Day for those without lovers, but with friends to whom they give gifts.
Online stores have cashed in on the idea, offering mouthwatering discounts on everything from cars to clothes to tempt consumers online on Singles Day, turning it into a retail bonanza… and it works.
“I hadn’t planned to buy anything but I heard there would be great discounts so I went online to have a look,” says Liu Na, a 20-something book editor. “I bought a blouse and a bag for myself, at 50 percent off.”
This year, e-commerce sales on Nov. 11 reached $4.6 billion, according to an estimate by the Economic Herald, a specialist daily in Shandong province.
That may not look like much compared with “Black Friday” spending in the US (which topped $11.4 billion last year), until you take a couple of things into account:
First, average Chinese salaries are 10 times smaller than average American salaries.
Second, this is just online. A comparable day in America might be “Cyber Monday,” coming up after the weekend. Last year online US shoppers shelled out $1.25 billion – little more than a quarter of what their Chinese counterparts spent two weeks ago.
The Chinese government may not be keen on the political corners of the Internet, but it loves the commercial aspect; its current five year plan for the economy foresees a fourfold jump in e-commerce from 2010 levels to $2.9 trillion by 2015.
China has the world’s largest online population, at 538 million, and has more online shoppers than anywhere else too: On Nov. 11, some 213 million people – nearly half of all Chinese Internet users – visited one of Alibaba’s two retail platforms. Alibaba, which runs the two biggest e-commerce sites in China, reported sales of $2.94 billion on Nov.11.
Ten million consumers – more than the population of Greece – clicked on an Alibaba site in the first minute of Nov. 11, in the dead of night.
The massive Singles Day sales promotions are expected to boost the number of online shoppers even further. Ms. Liu for example, says she has normally shopped in bricks-and-mortar stores, but her Singles Day experience has converted her.
“Apart from the discounts, it’s a lot more convenient,” she says.