A few years ago, we at J.C. Williams Group hired a bright, young Chinese analyst to round out our research group. In our discussions about Christmas and Black Friday, our analyst kept bringing up Singles’ Day. For those of you who have not heard about Singles’ Day, it is the equivalent of Valentine’s Day for singles in China where consumers buy presents for themselves. Like many celebrations around the world, Singles’ Day is an event that was embellished by an enterprising retailer―in this case, the Chinese ecommerce company Alibaba. This annual event takes place on November 11th (11/11) and has become a huge hit in China.
This year, it appears the world has awoken to Singles’ Day. According to Alibaba, this one day event far eclipses anything in North America. The scale is daunting for anyone used to North American numbers. Some quick facts include:
- Singles’ Day began at universities in China as a way of celebrating being single―a reality for many men in China.
- Alibaba’s online marketplaces, Tmall and Taobao, reported combined sales of US$5.8 billion in 2013, US$9.3 billion in 2014 and over US$14.3 billion in 2015, with many retailers reporting tremendous traffic during the event.
- International retailers such as Macy’s and John Lewis started promoting goods on Alibaba’s sites this year, but their reported sales were miniscule against what was expected and reported by Alibaba.
That being said, there has been some debate as to whether all these numbers are real or has Alibaba shaped the results to fit its own hype? Remember, there is really no third party verification like there is in other countries that have a more open approach to the internet. However, it is clear this is an event that is hard to ignore.
So what does this mean for the Canadian market? Based on J.C. Williams Group’s quarterly survey of the online shopping habits of Canadians―the Canadian E-tail Report―we know a significant number of Canadians buy from websites beyond Canada (57% from our third quarter results). After the U.S., Asia is the most shopped cross-border region for Canadians and accounts for between 10% and 13% of the spend of cross-border shoppers. With our significant Chinese immigrant population, Singles’ Day cross-border shopping will likely be significant for a proportion of our population—especially since the value of the American dollar makes shopping on U.S. websites less attractive to Canadians.
So what about Canadian retailers? Unlike Black Friday, November 11th has a particular meaning in Canada because of Remembrance Day, making it more difficult for most Canadian retailers to embrace this celebration without looking disrespectful. Since very few Canadian retailers have any experience selling to the Chinese market, we expect that Singles’ Day will be just an interesting celebration with little relevance here. What are your thoughts on this?