The Oban Blog

Alibaba to take Singles Day global

Singles Day, China’s yearly online shopping event comparable to Boxing Day, Cyber Monday and Black Friday is going global. Chinese e-commerce platform giant Alibaba Group will target customers from more than 200 countries and involve third party retailers from China, as well as many other countries in this annual event.

Singles Day (Guanggun Jie) is traditionally a Chinese celebration of bachelor life that takes place on 11th of November. This unofficial holiday in China has been embraced by leading online retailer Alibaba and has fast become the world’s biggest shopping day, dwarfing 2013’s Cyber Monday sales in the US. In monetary terms some $5.7bn worth of goods were sold last Singles Day (2013) on Alibaba Group’s shopping platforms Taobao Marketplace and, making the event the largest 24 hour online shopping binge in the world.

The move to take Singles Day global was announced in September 2014 at a press conference held by Alibaba Group officials. The Chinese e-commerce player expects more than 26,000 Tmall vendors to participate in Singles Day, with international buyers and retailers playing a significant role this year.

For the first time shoppers outside China will be able to enjoy huge discounts on the Tmall site during the 24 hour festival. In order to support international logistics, China’s national postal service will work with Brazil Post, Russia Post and the Spanish postal service to ensure efficient customs clearance and delivery. Cainiao, a subsidiary of Alibaba Group, will control logistics globally and provide users with global tracking of their parcel shipments.

Until now, Singles Day has been limited largely to mainland China. But less than a month until the 2014 event, Alibaba Group officials announced that merchants with storefronts on its international e-commerce marketplaces, AliExpress and Tmall Global, can also participate in the event.

Both AliExpress and Tmall Global offer unique propositions to merchants and online shoppers depending on their geo-location. AliExpress connects shoppers from all over the world with Chinese merchants that sell a wide array of products including apparel, electronics and even hair extensions. Meanwhile, Tmall Global offers Chinese consumers the ability to buy directly from foreign brands that don’t have established Chinese retail operations.

On the 11th of November 2014, AliExpress merchants will offer 50 percent discounts on one million product listings, according to the website’s officials. Free international shipping will be available on selected items to AliExpress shoppers in Brazil, Spain, Russia and other key markets.

Shoppers from Hong Kong, Malaysia and Taiwan can also take advantage of hugely discounted shipping rates on 400 items on Taobao Marketplace. Additionally, Alibaba Group will run online marketing campaigns in these regions and in Singapore to further promote this annual event.

But the global opportunities won’t end there for retailers. Chinese consumers will also have the chance to shop internationally. Tmall Global is gearing up with a slate of special offers for People’s Republic of China residents on imported goods from seven countries including the US, UK and Germany.

This is great news for international e-commerce businesses residing in these territories for a multitude of reasons. One of which is the rising wealth of Chinese consumers which has led to a boom in demand for foreign cosmetics, apparel and even fresh produce. While many Chinese consumers choose to buy imported products within China, an increasing number of shoppers are now saving money by purchasing directly from overseas merchants. During last year’s Singles Day, overseas orders soared with many online customers coming from Hong Kong, US and Taiwan.

Do you wish to capitalise on 2014 Singles Day?

Tmall International was recently launched as a dedicated site for business entities outside China. Its primary objective is to sell products to Chinese online shoppers and will be heavily involved in the forthcoming Singles Day 2014 event.

More than 140 foreign vendors from the UK, US, Australia and Japan are already using this platform which offers an impressive direct delivery service, 72 hour shipping and return facilities in mainland China. Tmall International has attracted international brands and retailers to open flagship stores; with one example being Costco, who launched its flagship online store in China in October 2014.

For the first time, Alibaba is allowing global brands to capitalise on the world’s largest shopping spree. CEO of Tmall, Wang Yulei, outlined the company’s future plans in an article on the Sina Tech website, saying: “This year for Singles Day, our core keyword is globalisation. Starting from this year, future Singles Days will definitely not just be for consumers in a particular region, Singles Day will be for the whole world”.

Should marketplaces like Tmall International replace other online channels when it comes to promoting Singles Day?

Marketplaces like Tmall dominate the e-commerce space in China, with nearly half of the Chinese e-commerce market share attributed to Alibaba. But not everything is so plain sailing when it comes to going global. Marketplaces come at a cost to the brand, with it being a hugely popular channel for grey marketing. In addition, they are increasingly under scrutiny as high-end brands are struggling to maintain its premium perception and quality of service to its customers. A classic example of this is Benefit Cosmetics which closed its Tmall store only after a few months of being active. Another example is Burberry whose Tmall shop received a refund rate of around 26.4% in China.

So, it appears that while marketplaces may seem like a good step forward in reaching the global consumer, investing time and research into your target audience and identifying the right channels that will complement your brand’s proposition is just as important.  One of the biggest mistakes brands make when targeting international customers is assuming that ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to web design.

For example, there are many businesses that launch websites in China and use the same styling as their western sites. This assumes that Chinese consumers follow the Western users taste for glossy “look book” style content dominated by images. But Chinese web design is predominately text heavy. This is the legacy of a few characteristics of Chinese web content:

1. That it is saturated with text ads

2. Chinese text characters feature up to 44 brush strokes, which means to be legible the font size needs to be bigger than a Western equivalent

3. Chinese users are more used to expecting a text heavy, information led experience.


In a study by Acquity Group (2012) a sample of American and Chinese shoppers were surveyed on retail website design and the study found that:

Objections from Chinese respondents to American styling included statements like “bigger pictures can drive attention, but the information was not enough” and that Westernised sites had “too many product pictures on the homepage”.

When it comes to interweaving international events into your activity cultural insight is vital. Local knowledge is the key differentiator in securing your online future, whatever market you target. But more importantly don’t assume that what works in  your home market will work overseas. Technology preferences will differ wildly – for example in China RenRen replaces Facebook and old versions of Internet Explorer vastly outstrip newer browsers like Chrome in terms of user share.

The secret to Singles Day success will come down to understanding the linguistic and cultural differences that attract and convert new customers. With more and more marketplaces cropping up over the landscape it’s hard to ignore its importance in global e-commerce. But what will drive e-tailers from failure to success will be the innate understanding of each touch point your consumer interacts with in the buying journey. It’s these details that will determine a successful market entry and online strategy.

Follow us at @ObanDigital to hear the latest updates and news on Singles Day 2014.