What did you buy on Double 11?

November 19, 2015 / By  

Near midnight on November 10, I was waiting anxiously in front of my laptop, clicking my way through to pay for the products saved in my Taobao/Tmall shopping cart. I was not the only one. Millions of Chinese spent a total of 122.9 billion Yuan ($17.7 billion) online in one day, a 52.7% increase from 2014 (Data source: Syntun). Although November 11, aka Double 11 or Singles’ Day, has often been described by the media as the equivalent to America’s Cyber Monday, in 2015 it truly became a national holiday.

Since late October, I began to receive text messages, wechat notifications, and weibo posts about the upcoming sales event. In contrast to 2014 when I aimlessly browsed through websites to find deals, I put together a wish list of things-to-buy weeks prior to D-Day. According to a recent poll by iResearch, 61% of the respondents prepared a shopping list before November 11, and the top three chosen categories were apparel and accessories, electronic appliances, and skincare products. I also tried pre-sale on Tmall this year.

Originally, Double 11 was for online retailers to lower out-of-season inventories; now an increasing number of brands choose this day to launch new products. Furthermore, to add more flavour to this special day, Alibaba created a broadcasted evening show with Hunan TV, a popular satellite TV station in China. In 2015, Double 11 was no longer a day to use shopping as a self-deprecating way to celebrate singlehood, but a national holiday when families sat together, watching their favourite celebrities on TV, just like New Year’s Eve. Many stars who appeared are spokespersons for Tmall stores, and when they performed, network traffic of that specific brand spiked up by millions of unique visitors. To make it more “international,” Hollywood stars like Daniel Craig and Kevin Spacey also appeared as their well-known characters and celebrated with millions of Chinese fans.

Does this mean offline won’t stand a chance against online? A recent study by IlluminAnalystics and Zhima Tech shows that Double 11 brought shoppers and potential sales opportunities to offline businesses as well. On the weekend before November 11, traffic flow at major retail hubs in Beijing, Wuhan and Shenzhen increased about 45%. Consumers also spent longer in stores to try products. This is especially true for apparel, footwear, cosmetic and skin products. Shopping can be spontaneous. If offline operators seize the opportunity, window shopping can turn into actual sales revenue.

This year some offline retailers including department stores and supermarkets took up the online challenge and held sales events prior to Double 11. By claiming that their price is cheaper than online, these stores were packed with consumers. However, simply comparing offline prices against online cannot be sustainable. As a consumer, online to me means attractive price comparison and convenient delivery. Offline has the upper hand when I want to try before finding the best fit. I think there is a middle ground. By targeting different consumer groups, retailers can win price-sensitive consumers online and also gain more experience-oriented consumers offline through the shopping environment and customer service.

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