Business Translation Center

Why China's Singles' Day Is a Shopping Holiday for Everyone

by OFER TIROSH 11/11/2019

Ever heard of Singles’ Day? It’s actually the world’s largest online shopping event that brings in more sales than America’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined! Wondered why you never heard of it? A lot of people are actually in the same boat! But many foreign retailers and ecommerce merchants already took notice of Singles’ Day years ago. 

How can they not when the event generates billions and billions worth of sales in just a few hours? Investing in translation services is one of their keys to tapping into the hundreds of millions of Chinese shoppers and rake in more success every single year on Singles’ Day. Learn more about China’s Singles’ Day, why it’s such a huge event it is for retailers and shoppers, and also a take on some issues that hamper its spread to other foreign markets. 

What Is China’s Singles’ Day? 

The story goes that during the 90’s, some college kids in Nanjing University wanted to create an Anti-Valentine occasion. They chose the date November 11 because it resembled four parallel sticks; a visual representation of singlehood. It then caught on throughout China. It even evolved to a point where single Chinese would set up dates on that day to find potential partners. 

But how it transitioned to the consumer spectacle it is today was because of Alibaba. Under Jack Ma’s tenure as CEO of Alibaba, the company decided to turn the informal occasion into a bonafide shopping event. Did they succeed? You bet they did and it even exceeded their expectations! Forget Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Singles’ Day brings in more revenue than both of them combined! 

Seeing how much success Singles’ Day was, Alibaba then rebranded Singles’ Day as Double 11. Instead of celebrating singlehood, everyone regardless of their relationship status can treat themselves and splurge on irresistible marked-down prices and promos. 

Another reason for its success is just how popular online shopping is in China. Most of it is done through their mobile phones through cashless payment platforms such as WeChat Pay and Alipay. Cashless payments makes transactions easier and faster for the hundreds and millions of tech savvy Chinese shoppers.

How Is Singles’ Day Different Than Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

Figures aside, what makes Singles’ Day different than Black Friday and Cyber Monday is the experience. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are all about prices while Singles’ Day is both about prices and the experience. Aside from the ‘treat yourself’ vibe, Alibaba kicks off the Double 11 event with a gala; an out-of-this-world festive spectacle. 

The company invites A-list celebrities, world-class athletes, entertainers, supermodels, you name it. They have people like Mariah Carey, Lionel Messi, Miranda Kerr, and many more A-listers all under the same roof! Attendees and viewers are entertained with performances and enticing product promotions. Now that is an experience that Black Friday and Cyber Monday can’t match in any way. 

Is Singles’ Day Gaining Ground in Foreign Markets? 

Yes! Many foreign retailers are actually looking forward to Singles’ Day every single year since it first started. However, most of its global success is concentrated in China’s regional neighbors, namelyJapan, South Korea, Southeast Asia and Australia. The region’s big-name retailers and dominant regional ecommerce platforms offer Double 11 promos in their markets. 

In fact, they're also bringing the experience to millions of Chinese expats through Dealmoon.  Dealmoon is the top online shopping that is mainly catered to the global Chinese expat community. It’s only natural that Dealmoon would also ride on the Singles' Day bandwagon. However, all of them couldn’t just market to the Chinese consumer without significant changes in their digital marketing strategies.

Reaching out to the Chinese audience includes investing in translation services and translating content to Simplified Chinese. It makes sense right? Why would Chinese shoppers scour for products in English or other foreign languages when they prefer their native language? 

Another crucial part of any international marketing strategy is localization; curating and adapting content until it is suitable to the target audience. Translation is part of localization, but localization takes it a step further. These include adjusting the target audience’s preferred color schemes, incorporating local and social references, being mindful of political norms (think China’s Great Firewall Policy) and much more. 

But whatever localization strategy that foreign retailers have adopted, it’s working out very well for them. With the help of localization services, they can find the perfect angle to lure in more Chinese shoppers and be part of the Singles’ day bonanza. Each year, they’re seeing their overall sales climb up and Chinese shoppers can’t get enough of foreign branded goods. 

Can Foreign Ecommerce Merchants Hop Onto the Singles’ Day Bandwagon? 

As with all things, yes—if they know what they’re doing and if they’re doing it properly. As explained earlier, reaching out to the Chinese audience involves translation and localization. Foreign ecommerce merchants need to invest in both translation and localization services if they want to tap into the Chinese consumer. They also need to work on completely different marketing platforms that they’re not used to. 

A. Standard SEO Strategies Won’t Work on Baidu 

Baidu is China’s counterpart to Google. If you already have a stellar SEO strategy on the Google platform, sorry to say that it won’t do much good for you in Baidu. Another thing to take into account is China’s Great Firewall policies. If your content has politically charged posts against the Chinese government, then it’s goodbye to your presence on Baidu. 

B. Having A Presence in China’s Social Media Platforms

Another crucial digital marketing strategy in today’s business environment is to have a strong social media marketing strategy. The problem is that many of the major social platforms that we’re familiar with, namely Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are also banned in China. The most popular Chinese social media platforms are WeChat and Weibo. Simply put, it’s back to square one. 

C. Everything Must Be Translated to Simplified Chinese

Your presence in Baidu, WeChat, and Weibo will all be for nought if your website and its content doesn’t support English to Chinese translation. Foreign retailers have the budget and resources to request for voluminous translation services. That isn’t the case for many small to medium businesses and ecommerce merchants—especially when they have dozens to hundreds of products in their inventory. They have to translate everything; their branding, product names, product descriptions, marketing materials, and online content.     

Difficulties in Localizing the Singles’ Day Experience in Foreign Markets

There is indeed a growing trend in bringing Singles’ Day to the global online shopper’s own doorstep. But there are a few bumps along the way. The main issue is localizing a uniquely Chinese experience to foreign markets with their own consumer cultures.  

A. Singles’ Day Might Be Too Much For American Shoppers

Singles’ Day hasn’t caught on yet to the majority of American shoppers. A lot of them don’t really know it exists but it’s also argued that they are already spoiled for choice during the month of November. Black Friday and Cyber Monday is so ingrained in American culture that includes another shopping event might oversaturate the shopping season. 

You can say that it takes the spectacle right out of Singles’ Day if it was promoted in the same month with other widely anticipated shopping events. But Singles’ Day, Double 11, whichever you want to call it, is already catching the attention of so many American retailers and merchants. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes another part of American consumer culture. 

B. The November 11 Date Clashes With Time-Honoured Traditions

Singles’ Day coincidentally happens on the same day as cherished holidays in the U.S. and the U.K. November 11 happens to be America’s Veterans Day and UK’s Armistice Day. It would be highly insensitive to promote a shopping event on the same day to commemorate military veterans and fallen soldiers. 

American and British retailers and merchants have to inevitably pick another date. But would it still be Singles’ Day without November 11? The debate goes on how to properly localize it to their own consumer culture and overcome cultural and social barriers.  

What Will Singles’ Day Look Like in the Future in Foreign Markets?: Final Takeaway

Singles’ Day is slowly but surely expanding in regional markets as explained earlier. It'll eventually reach the American and European markets and their domestic shoppers. 

For Western foreign retailers and merchants, they need to match Singles’ Day spirit. Plainly speaking, it’s to go big or go home. That is to offer extremely competitive rates, perhaps even more competitive than their other local shopping events to mark Double 11 as a completely unique and anticipated event. 

If there’s one thing going for foreign retailers and merchants is that Chinese shoppers are more willing to buy foreign branded goods since they know they’re getting quality goods. Although they're already finding success with Chinese online shoppers, they will have to do a lot more if they want to bring and localize the Singles’ Day experience to their domestic shoppers. 

Localization is definitely a big issue although this depends according to each country. It’s clear that there’s some issues in bringing Singles’ Day to American and British consumers. Exactly how they will do it is anyone’s guess at this point but they’ll come around eventually. They’re not about to give up any time as the retail opportunities in Singles’ Day is too attractive to ignore. 

Western retailers and merchants need to also capitalize on the rebranding efforts made by Alibaba from a celebration of one’s single status to more of an occasion of treating one’s self. Singles’ Day worked for China but Double 11 might work for the whole world. In the near future, it may well become another anticipated shopping event that everyone would be looking forward to in the same league as their local shopping traditions.