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What Happened on Singles Day and Why it Matters for US Brands

Singles Day once again delivered on the hype surrounding the global shopping extravaganza, giving retail a glimmer of hope for holiday spending.

Alibaba says its made-up shopping holiday broke yet another record, with the gross merchandise value (GMV) of goods sold through its digital platforms from Nov. 1-11 reaching 498.2 billion RMB ($74.1 billion), nearly doubling the total sold throughout last year’s event.

During a live virtual event celebrating 11.11’s conclusion, Michael Evans, president, Alibaba Group, touted the power of the Chinese consumer.

“At the most fundamental level, to be able to produce that result over this 11-day period shows you how quickly and how well the Chinese economy has recovered from the pandemic, and how strong and powerful the Chinese consumer is,” Evans said. “Yes, we gave more time for the consumers to shop, but we also focused on the smaller businesses and the smaller brands to give them more time to profile their new products.”

Unlike in past years, when millions of Chinese shoppers stayed up late to process their purchases at midnight on Nov. 11, this year consumers had extended time to shop. Singles Day included two sales windows running from Nov. 1-3, and then over the 24 hours of Nov. 11. Alibaba also offered two “presale” periods: Oct. 21-31 and Nov. 4-10.

Alibaba says it made the change to alleviate pressure on logistics companies, afford consumers more time to shop and help merchants better plan their operations. Additionally, the tweak serves potentially pent-up demand from shoppers who weren’t buying while pandemic paused their desire or wherewithal to spend, giving businesses an opportunity to recoup lost sales.

A mere 30 minutes into Nov. 11, total GMV exceeded 372.3 billion RMB, or approximately $56 billion, with the number of orders peaking at 583,000 orders per second. With the help of the longer presale periods, the GMV total far surpassed last year’s 24-hour tally of $38.4 billion.

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Alibaba also said that from midnight China Standard Time on Nov. 1, to 12:35 am on Nov. 11, 13 brands surpassed 1 billion RMB ($151.7 million) in GMV. In addition, 342 brands, including Apple, L’Oréal, Haier, Estée Lauder, Nike, Huawei, Midea, Lancôme, Xiaomi and Adidas each surpassed 100 million RMB at the time ($15.2 million) in GMV.

One major success story came from the Diane von Furstenberg brand, which saw GMV exceed last year’s total during 11.11 in just 23 minutes. When the brand’s founder and fashion icon appeared on the live event, she noted that her company’s entrance into the market was spurred by her fascination with the country since childhood, particularly its role in facilitating trade through the Silk Road.

DVF recently celebrated the anniversary of its flagship store opening on Tmall. The fashion brand livestreams to Chinese consumers, even participating in the first livestream of Shanghai Fashion Week.

“Right now, we live in this incredible digital revolution and it is fascinating,” von Furstenberg said. “What is really interesting is right now with Covid and everything that’s happening in the world, we have two energies that pull us. On one side, everybody is closer to nature, and everybody is discovering the beauty of nature. And on the other side, what has happened is we have pushed this huge acceleration to the virtual world.”

Alibaba revealed that the GMV of products sold throughout its 11.11 Singles Day shopping event reached a record $74.1 billion over 11 days.
Alibaba’s Single Day shopping event broke records once again. Alibaba Group

Livestreaming plays unique role

More so than even in previous years, livestreaming was a driver throughout the entire Singles Day event. In fact, Alibaba says its two top livestreamers alone surpassed 9.1 billion ($1.38 billion) in RMB in just two days of presales..

The efforts are led by what Alibaba calls “Key Opinion Leaders,” or “KOLs” for short. These KOLs have the job of marketing products during the livestream on the company’s Taobao live platform to guide shoppers on everything they need to know about a product in real time. The livestreaming capabilities are particularly beneficial for overseas companies aiming to reach the Chinese consumer who doesn’t know much about their brand or product yet.

Alibaba estimates that 400,300 total executives and celebrities took part in some livestreaming activity during this year’s event.

U.S. businesses capture $5 billion

Evans noted that U.S. businesses drove more than $5 billion of the $74.1 billion in GMV throughout the event, making the country the single largest contributor of any country globally outside of China.

“This is an opportunity for big brands and small businesses, so we’ve made a very big focus on that this year,” Evans said. “Finally, I think probably the most important message for all brands, big or small—a China strategy and a digital strategy is going to be absolutely critical to survival and success in the future.”

This year, 14 million products from 250,000 brands from 89 countries and markets have been up for sale on the Tmall marketplace. As many as 5,000 brands joined 11.11 for the first time, with 2,600 of those brands coming from international markets.