Minnie Wang
Nov 11, 2021

Constancy and change: How the 11.11 global shopping festival is evolving

With input from China ecommerce experts, we look at the global shopping festival's new additions this year, the challenges brands face, such as consumer fatigue and loss of third-party data, and future opportunities including virtual products.

Alibaba Group
Alibaba Group

Twelve years after Alibaba Group carried out the first Singles Day shopping event in 2009, the now global festival continues to morph and adjust to the times. 

From November 1 to 12:45 am on November 11, 382 brands recorded GMV (gross merchandise value) of over 100 million RMB (US$15.6 million). But GMV is not the only target for Tmall. 

For example, the keywords for Alibaba’s global shopping festival this year are sustainability and inclusiveness, with changes and innovations brought into the shopping event to support those concepts. To achieve sustainability, Tmall and 14 brands established the first 'Green Merchants Alliance' on November 2, saying the effort would promote eco-friendly consumption and support a more efficient supply chain. In October, Tmall launched the 'One Shoe Program', which allows people with disabilities to buy a single shoe from participating brands.

By talking to industry experts and analysing media coverage in China, Campaign China highlights the following trends of change and constancy about the 2021 global shopping festival. 

L-R: Mohammed Sirajuddeen, Accenture Interactive; Xiaofeng Wang, Forrester; Jerman Zhang, GroupM China; Aileen Ku, Hivestack China; Frank Xu, EBP, Dentsu China

Earlier opening and fiercer competition 

AppAnnie’s Gabrielle Bikker observed that as the shopping carnival is getting larger, Alibaba has adopted a strategy of longer and longer shopping sprees. In the past, it is only about November 11. Last year, the event was extended from November 1 to November 12. This year, the shopping festival started in October with the first stage of pre-orders and discounts ending before November. Then a further round of pre-orders and discounts started in November, leading to the 11.11 finale. 

Jerman Zhang, chief commerce office of GroupM Commerce China also noted the changing time span. Compared with the previous year, Alibaba's festival "started from 21st October”, he said. "This year it has kicked off even four hours earlier, from 8 pm on 20 October. Learned from last year, numerous consumers decided to purchase on 1 November for a better discount.” 

In the face of competition, timing is everything. Before the final day today, JD.com opened discounts at 8 pm, 4 hours earlier than Alibaba’s 11/11. JD used the slogan, 'Don’t stay up too late' to promote this.

"Platform competition has intensified, so much so that e-commerce platforms have set two stages, with the first wave of sales moved forward to 1 November, and the second wave of sales moved to 8 pm on 10 November,” said Frank Xu, CEO of EBP, an e-commerce solutions provider within Dentsu China. In fact, the result he disclosed is “some of our clients have already sold more products on 1 November than their total double-11 GMV last year”.

Increasing popularity, harder conversion 

According to Alibaba, this year 290,000 brands are participating, and Tmall is offering more than 14 million deals to over 900 million consumers in China.  

Zhang also observed the increasing popularity of 11.11. “Since it is the 13th 11.11 global shopping festival, brands and consumers have a higher acceptance on it.” 

He emphasized that “brands tend to launch new products ahead of 11.11, so as to get better conversion”.

Behind the scenes, brands know it’s getting harder to achieve a high conversion rate. Brands usually start months earlier than the online shopping festival. “One of our biggest clients has launched their new personal care product three months before 11.11," he said. "The brand defined its go-to-market strategy: to do the offsite social seeding ahead of time for consumer awareness, then drive traffic to the ecommerce platform. With this strategy, the new product has hit astonishing sales during the festival.”

Sales jumping, livestreaming fading(?) 

Over the years, more ecommerce platforms in China have relied on livestreaming and KOL marketing. In 2020, Alibaba’s two top livestreaming influencers contributed to almost 7.8 billion RMB in combined GMV in a livestreaming session during the festival. Zhang believes that livestreaming still matters, as “the combined GMV of top livestreamers Austin Li and Viya has surpassed 20 billion RMB” during the first day of livestreaming for the 2021 festival. Now, Zhang said, “brands are doing livestreaming themselves for communication and conversion.”

However, Xiaofeng Wang, principal analyst at Forrester, noticed that “promotions offered by top livestreamers Austin Li and Viya are now very similar to what brands offer on their own flagship stores.” Chinese media coverage shared the same thoughts and questioned the discounted pricing advantages of livestreaming due to consumer fatigue. 

Strong categories, more newcomers 

In terms of product categories, Zhang analysed the strong categories remain: “beauty, personal care, and food are still among the best-selling categories,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the power of Generation Z continues to rise in China. In the past few years, new brands have grown up from scratch on Tmall, with Pop Mart and Perfect Diary going all the way to IPO and redefining the D2C ecommerce model in China. 

This year, play-economy brands in China are becoming a stronger force. In the October pre-order stage, a 70th-anniversary special edition of Astro Boy became the No. 1 sold-out item in the toy category. Chinese toy bricks newcomer Pantasy achieved No. 2 during the first stage of pre-orders. Even though Lego remains No. 1 on the list, No. 3 Bloks is another Chinese competitor.   

A more globalised shopping festival  

The global shopping festival is not just a shopping event for Chinese consumers to buy global products. 

As Alibaba launched Tmall Hong Kong earlier this year, it is the first time Tmall Hong Kong joined the celebration. And for the second year, Alibaba is helping US-based small and medium-sized businesses to bring their products to China. Nearly 200 US brands have launched on Tmall Global since January.

To prepare stock before 11.11, Cainiao, a logistics network under Alibaba, recorded a 286% increase in the volume of inventory for Japanese products from September to October. A total of 198 flights and 68 ships were deployed to move inventory from key cities in Japan to Cainiao’s warehouses in China. 

Now, the global shopping festival exports shopping culture to new continents. 

According to Collab Asia’s report and analysis, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore also celebrated the event. Taobao and Tmall, together with Lazada, brought livestreaming and influencer marketing from the Alibaba ecosystem in China to the rest of the world. Wang highlighted in his analysis that “luxury brands are now more comfortable with ecommerce marketplaces and have started to replicate their success in China to Southeast Asia on Lazada and Shopee.” 

AliExpress will celebrate 11.11 with localized shoppertainment campaigns in France, Spain, Brazil, Russia, Poland and South Korea. With logistics support from Cainiao, AliExpress offers delivery in 10 working days for selected cross-border orders made in Spain and France, 12 working days for Brazil and five working days for South Korea. 

Leveraging data and uncertainty  

Another characteristic of global shopping festival 2021 is that brands are building customer loyalty through direct customer data. "After China’s Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) took effect on November 1, they can no longer rely on third-party ecommerce marketplaces to share customer data like the old days,” Wang emphasized. 

Wang is not the only analyst who shared the opinion. Aileen Ku, Hivestack's general manager in China, agreed with him about disruptions and changes of the shopping season. Even though “signs indicate that ongoing uncertainty hasn’t impacted consumer demand and spending projections”, Ku believes “more and more brands in Greater China have started leveraging their first-party data, choosing programmatic DOOH technology to maximise return on investment, target audiences at scale with precision and drive better post-campaign evaluation".

With more restrictions on data, Taobao and Tmall open up the door to social shopping by encouraging consumers to share their shopping carts with friends and strangers within the Alibaba ecosystem. 

What’s next? Metaverse and NFT

This year Alibaba launched a “Double 11 Metaverse Art Exhibition” on its mobile app. Brands including Burberry, Kiehl's, XPeng Motors and P&G joined this virtual shopping festival. 

Wang called it “early experiments on the metaverse and NFTs in B2C marketing”.

“Far from mature or sophisticated, but it’s a smart move for Alibaba to test the waters by involving brands and launching something new on Singles’ Day,” she said.

Mohammed Sirajuddeen, growth and digital commerce lead for growth markets at Accenture Interactive, believes the metaverse will be an opportunity for brands to “build experiences that are connected and in line with what their consumers are doing and value”. 

He also pointed out, according to Accenture’s Business Futures 2021 report, that “nine in 10 global C-suite executives of retail and consumer brands are already investing in technologies to create virtual environments, and are planning to invest further”. 
Campaign China

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