This article is part of CMO.com’s November series about commerce and consumerism. Click here for more.
Whether or not romantically attached, shoppers are being courted this Singles’ Day by the world’s biggest online sales event, where competition for attention is fierce.
Singles’ Day was started by Chinese college students as a respite from the pressure to find a partner. The date, Nov. 11, was chosen for the repetition of the number 1 (11/11), representing singletons.
Today, this lonely-numbered celebration is a holiday with many zeroes–a billion-dollar global bonanza that offers a fascinating glimpse into the future of both the online and brick-and-mortar retail experiences.
“It is truly anachronistic to see the world as ‘offline’ and ‘online’ anymore,” said Vinay Dixit, VP of Electrolux Asia Pacific, a seller of home appliances and one of the world’s most reputable brands.
Last year’s Singles’ Day racked up 1 billion transactions totaling USD $17.8 billion in gross merchandise volume (GMV), according to The South China Morning Post. Sales-minded consumers in more than 200 countries took advantage of the deals and went shopping on Singles’ Day—a 60% increase in international transactions.
The expectations for Singles’ Day 2017 are even greater. For this year’s event, “more than 1 million stores will utilise online and offline integrations to enhance merchant operations and create innovative customer experiences,” according to James Hudson, director of corporate affairs, government relations, and marketing at Alibaba Group.
In addition, more than 1,000 brands will convert 100,000 physical locations into “smart stores,” Hudson said. These will feature a range of “new retail” experiences that include “browsing, shopping tours, virtual fitting rooms, payments, and deliveries.”
Alibaba is well-placed to comment on the biggest shopping day on record. The e-commerce giant has played a key role in the global rise of Singles’ Day, promoting the event across its considerable platform and driving sales for thousands of retailers. Its founder, Jack Ma, has teamed with other countries in the region to launch the Chinese e-shopping festival and create e-commerce hubs.
Singles’ Day has also become a great opportunity to trial new technology and processes, according to Hudson. That includes injecting online capabilities—for example, facial recognition and mobile gamification—into offline experiences, much the way Alibaba’s Tmall app is designed to encourage foot traffic to integrate digitally with brick-and-mortar locations.
Although 82% of GMV was generated via mobile on Singles’ Day in 2016, keeping it “real” in the offline world remains a major part Asia Pacific retailers’ strategies, especially for higher-value products, such as, in Electrolux’s case, large kitchen equipment.
“The demands of size/proportion, design alignment with cabinetry, and customisation for different cuisines mandate that there be an omnichannel experience available,” Dixit said, “one which allows consumers to ‘touch and feel’ in-store, as well as inspire design, styling, combinations, and ranges offline.”
Working in retailers’ favor on Singles’ Day, and all year long, is increasingly localized consumer wealth from areas with populations of between 500,000 and 5 million people, according to Regan James Leggett, Nielsen’s executive director for growth markets thought leadership and foresight.
“One of the key drivers of consumer growth in many of the regional areas is the rising affluence of locals, driven by spreading commerce and the influx of foreign investment,” he told CMO.com. “This newfound prosperity has grown the appetite for products and services among locals with increased spending power.”
Improvements in infrastructure are another important growth driver. “Infrastructural developments have similarly improved access to goods and services, enabling brands to engage with their consumers both physically and digitally to broaden their options and cultivate demand,” Leggett added.
Dixit echoed those sentiments. “The rapid proliferation of [mobile] internet, fixed-price large data plans, and value-delivery capability have ensured that consumers are becoming adept at seamlessly switching between various channels to find the best solutions,” he said.