Singles’ Day (Double 11) – how marketers can prepare for the future of shopping
Jean-Paul Edwards
19 November 2021

By Jean-Paul Edwards, Chief Product Officer at OMD, and Echo Zhou, Audience Research & Strategy Manager, OMD China

Double 11/Singles’ Day breaks commerce records

Online shopping events have grown in many markets around the world. Black Friday/Cyber Monday has been exported from the US. Local events such as Cyber Day in Chile and Harbolnas in Indonesia or platform specific events such as Amazon Prime Day have driven e-commerce growth. 

China is the true home of the online shopping event, the largest of which is ‘Singles’ Day’ on November 11th. Originally a 1990s anti-valentines student stunt it was initially co-opted as a small scale marketing stunt to drive awareness of e-commerce in 2009 by

It has since grown to be the largest single online shopping event in the world. 2021 grew to around USD 140 billion across just the two largest major Chinese shopping destinations Alibaba (60%) and (40%).

It is now increasingly known as Double 11 to move away from being understood as just an event for single people buying gifts for themselves. It is a significant driver of spend outside of Chinaespecially in the APAC region. In the UK – despite Double 11 coinciding with Remembrance Day – sales are forecast to grow 13% to GBP 1.72 billion this year. It does, however, remain a niche concept in the US.

Brands delivering ‘Wow, Right, Now’

Retail behaviours and attitudes are changing quickly. OMD and OCG’s recent ‘Future of Commerce’ report explored these in depth,  summarised as delivering ‘Wow, Right, Now’. Each  is well illustrated by brands innovating to compete for spend and attention during Double 11. 

Wow: going above and beyond

The ‘spectacular’ has been an essential aspect of Double 11 to inspire spending. 76% of Chinese consumers were excited about this year’s event.

This year, Tmall created immersive virtual streets in the lead up to Double 11 at the Shanghai World Trade Centre, to showcase breakthrough products and technologies. Innovations included meta-human virtual influencer, Avayi.

There has been a shift away from mass live events, to delivering ‘wow’ with more focused live streaming events with influencers – that deliver huge sales.

Success has been driven by Taobao’s (China’s largest C2C marketplace) ‘Planting Grass machine’ which connects a large network of products, lists, live stream and recorded content  through need-state and contextual meta data. 50 million used the app in its first 10 days in October.

Right: Delivering sustainability 

Double 11 has prioritized a greater focus on sustainability:

Right: Data

Many markets now limit the use of personal data, including China through the new PIPL (Personal Information Protection Law) which came in to force this month.

Alibaba’s Tmall brand found an effective mechanism to drive interactions through curiosity. The shopping platform announced that 32,000 people had participated in all 12 of the previous Double 11 events. As a thank you to those loyal consumers, they sent a customized set of roses to them, anywhere in the world. 

For those with fewer interactions other smaller prizes were available, leading to 1.83 million consumers to search for “Double 11 Surprise Treasure Box” within the first 2 hours.

Now: Convenience 

A key element of Singles’ Day marketing is enabling consumers to show off their wish lists. Starting from Double 11 this year, shopping lists can be shared with one click on Taobao, making the sharing experience smoother and more convenient. 

Consumers can also generate a ‘wish-list poster’ of certain products to share on other social platforms, and choose with whom they wish to share: limited to their friends, or actively open to all consumers on Taobao.

Many AI features explored in ‘Future of Commerce’  such as image search, are already scaled in the Taobao app.  

Over 1 million packages were delivered by driverless vehicles during the shopping event, surpassing the volume delivered in the whole previous year. 

There is even a patent for a neuro technology for a brain interface enabling purchase through thought alone.

How should marketers prepare themselves?

Online live shopping events will continue to grow globally in 2022, as platforms and major retailers compete for consumer attention and market share.

In China, the two months around the major shopping events – 11.11 and 618 in June – account for over 50% of sales for international brands. To be successful in China, international brands must learn how to market effectively during these periods, and to accelerate product development for a complex market with much local nuance.

Preparation for these periods is critical. Winning consumer hearts and minds before the main shopping event is captured by the strategy of Zhongcao – or ‘planting grass’. Seeding desire and excitement in the 40 days before the event and making consumers part of the campaign. Not just driving buzz beforehand but creating content and connections for the main event through broadcast, livestream and wish-lists.

We can expect to see strategies increasingly built around a global calendar of large shopping events that ebb and flow between markets. Focus will shift West as Black Friday builds, then back East for 12.12. Stretched supply chains will be managed to deliver for them. With media plans built around these events, the OMD China team has built media packages optimised for Double 11 and Double 12 festivals.  

Insights and innovations from Double 11 can help brands grow not just in China, but also through online shopping events around the world. 

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