By Venky Shankar
11/11 or November 11 is celebrated as the World’s Singles Day. It is an entertaining event widely popular among Chinese people. November 11 was chosen because it contains multiple instances of the number one that best represents an individual alone. In recent times, it has also become the day with the biggest single day sales. Promoted by giant Chinese e-commerce retailer Alibaba as a mega sales day event, revenues from the Singles Day has grown exponentially from just $100 million in 2009 to $18 billion in 2016. This year, Alibaba’s Singles Day sales are expected to reach $22 billion.
But Alibaba is not alone in this journey. JD.com, its main Chinese online rival, has teamed up with Tencent, another Chinese online behemoth, and Walmart to cash in on the binge buying that takes place that day. Although Alibaba cornered about 71 percent of overall single day revenues last year, its competitors may be able to bite into more of its share this year.
Such is the volume of online sales on Singles Day that it trounces sales done on other mega event days, including Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Amazon Prime Day, which are also expected to rise this year. By comparison, Black Friday and Cyber Monday online sales totaled $6.8 billion in 2016.
Why is Singles Day important for the future? By 2022, Chinese middle-class shoppers are predicted to surpass U.S. shoppers both in number (550 million vs. 340 million) and spending. Because it is online, Singles Day offers the potential of tapping into global shoppers for maximizing sales revenue for many U.S. retailers as well.
With all these online excitement, where is retail headed? Globally, more commerce is moving rapidly online as shoppers use more of their mobile devices and online channels to browse, compare, click, purchase and return items, and communicate with others and retailers.
That doesn’t mean physical stores are getting irrelevant. True, some of the predominantly brick-and-mortar retailers such as Sears and Macy’s are struggling. However, omnichannel retailers such as Walmart and Best Buy are thriving. Even pure e-commerce retailers such as Amazon are moving offline. Amazon is opening physical bookstores, bought Wholefoods, partnering with Kohl’s to handle product returns, and is testing a new self-scanning and electronic paying store concept called Amazon Go. Even Alibaba has acquired In-Time department stores and has its own experimental He Ma supermarket stores. In addition, it has enabled 100,000 convenience stores to become smart centers. Shoppers want 360-degree access to retail from multiple touchpoints and demand a seamless experience. The retail universe is becoming an increasingly mobile-led omnichannel universe.
Whatever the prediction for the future, one thing is clear: Sales on Singles day is going to get only bigger this year.
Venky Shankar is the Coleman Chair Professor in Marketing at Mays Business School as well as director of research at Texas A&M University’s Center for Retailing Studies. His areas of specialization include digital business, marketing strategy, innovation, retailing, international marketing, and pricing.