Image: Two men transporting many boxes of goods on dollies through the pedestrian and automobile traffic of Nanjing Road in Shanghai, China - one of the busiest shopping streets in the world.
Cyber Week - that exciting and busy eCommerce season including Black Friday and Cyber Monday - is just over 1 month away. Across the globe, however, shoppers are gearing up for an even larger shopping holiday - Singles Day, on 11/11.
You may have heard of it. Like me, you might have lived through it (so I can attest to its amazing intensity, great deals, and impressive logistics). You can probably also understand why it’s so popular.
Unlike Valentine’s Day, when you’re supposed to spend your hard-earned cash on someone else, Singles Day - as an eCommerce holiday - was manufactured by the eRetail giants of Alibaba (and now supported by JD.com, plus other marketplaces and brands) to give single Chinese adults a chance to treat themselves. Last year, Alibaba broke records with over $25 billion USD in Gross Merchandise Value sold.
There are a lot of good articles you can read about why Singles Day is a thing (this page on Wikipedia is a good place to start) - but I’m interested in how you can take part in it, as an eCommerce professional. I will give you my recommendations on tapping into this market - if not this year, next. While some retailers are trying to bring Singles Day to North America, that could prove problematic as the day has a different, more sombre significance in our culture, as a day of remembrance for war veterans and fallen soldiers. Therefore, my tips will focus more on appealing to Chinese consumers.
As a bonus, if you’re interested in speaking to my team about your overall eCommerce strategy, you’re always free to drop us a line and talk to an expert. For now, the tips:
MOBILE-FIRST DESIGN, PLEASE. In fact, just make the whole omni-channel experience mobile-first.
By 2020, 74% of eCommerce sales in China will be done through a phone. It is much more common to primarily access the internet through a mobile device in China than in North America.
This means mobile-first is extremely important for accessing that market. Mobile-first does not mean desktop-first with responsive design. It means you have designed the mobile experience with the goal of proper UX design tailored for mobile.
Furthermore, Chinese consumers are quite accustomed to interacting with brands through WeChat - meaning, not only do you need to have a mobile-first eCommerce site, but if you want to interact with customers, you need to talk to them where they are. 902 million people use WeChat daily. 1.057 billion use WeChat monthly. Only 70 million of those users are located outside China. If you’re going to be marketing to the Chinese audience, you need a WeChat presence. Weibo is pretty important, too. On social, users love dynamic mobile campaigns, with HTML5 games or interactive content. If you don’t have a presence in China, you can still open a WeChat service account - here is a great how-to guide.
Basically, meet Chinese consumers where they are - on mobile, and on Chinese social media.
That doesn’t mean ignore your non-Chinese sites.
Chinese consumers do prefer content designed for their taste and browsing habits - but they still use foreign (non-Chinese) sites! A major reason for this is the ability to freight-forward. By forcing Chinese consumers to redirect to a version of the site made for them, they might not get to purchase from you the way they want to purchase… meaning they’ll go somewhere else. It might be worth it to advertise a Singles Day coupon for discounts on your American, Canadian, or European site if it will help consumers shop with you the way they feel comfortable.
Chinese consumers also thoroughly research products before buying them - more than North American shoppers. While that doesn’t automatically translate to research via your international site, as a lot of their research will include consulting trusted friends and family, it’s a safe bet some more fastidious shoppers will take a chance to visit your foreign site and see what the prices are like, or to double check the product they saw on a marketplace or smaller eCommerce site isn’t fake (a problem that both the government and marketplaces are cracking down on).
Use this as an opportunity to market yourself to distributors.
Foreign brands interested in expanding their offline presence in China through distribution (such as Consumer Packaged Goods or CPGs) can use their success on Singles Day to prove they can be successful in the Chinese market. If this is a goal of your company’s China strategy - to find a partner who can resell your goods and help you gain more long-term popularity - think of Singles Day as your interview.
Set up your distribution! Make sure you can fulfill orders! If you expect a lot of traffic, make sure your site can handle it!
This stuff sounds boring, but it’s actually really important, so I’ve added exclamation points! I mentioned earlier that I have lived through Singles Day - I have actually lived through 3 of them. The most striking aspect of this event - in my opinion - is the logistics system built around its fulfillment. There are 1.2 million couriers in China delivering packages on a regular basis. During the Singles Day delivery season, courier companies increase salaries to attract even more workers to deal with the larger number of packages (the regular season salary is quite low). Customers expect their deliveries to arrive quickly, and if yours don’t, you could damage your brand.
Therefore, make sure you communicate with your supplier to ensure you will be able to fulfill orders, and won’t have to delay or cancel shipments.
As I mentioned, there is a chance that Chinese customers will use your site to do research or order in a way that suits their needs - so are you ready to handle that traffic? Chinese consumers are frustrated by sites loading too slowly - so having your site at peak performance is important. Check out our Holiday Readiness services if you’re interested in learning more about getting your site up and ready for Singles Day, Cyber Week, or any peak-traffic season.
And please… use some cultural sensitivity.
International business is hard! You can offend people, or misunderstand certain aspects of their culture, and not even mean to. Still, if you’re operating in China, or marketing to Chinese consumers, it’s pretty important that you consult someone who knows the culture well before launching your product or campaign for the Chinese market.
Minimalism is huge in North America - but when designing products showcasing Chinese writing, it’s not the right approach - sophisticated brush strokes in Chinese writing, or stylized characters, will convey a better sense of style to the target audience. Similarly, Chinese speakers play with language in a different way from English speakers - bilingual people will understand that difference, as it’s a distinct feature in most languages. It’s near impossible to effectively create direct translations for things like slogans, so it may be useful to consult on a new slogan or ad copy that will accurately represent your brand while appealing to the Chinese market.
These are just a few tips for Singles Day. Expanding into new markets is a challenge, as it requires strategic guidance, technical know-how and new integrations, cultural adaptation, legal, and more. I hope this post has given you some idea on where to start, however - so you can start to plan your China Singles Day strategy.
Aisling is our Demand Marketing Specialist, and loves working with both technology and humans. She studied International Business (concentrating in Marketing) and has spent several years living and working in China, mostly in Shanghai, where she became passionate about global innovation and how the use of social media changes in different cultures. Aisling likes to keep up on internet trends - from business to memes - and is always looking for new ways to learn or entertain herself.