Source: TA/AFP/Getty

On the 11th November as I was driving home I laughed out loud at a segment called Radio Dating. It goes something like this: two singles call in to the station (well, assumed single), have an ‘on air’ date and if it goes well you can get each other’s numbers to arrange a hook up. On 11/11 the contestants were gay and my heart went to Daniel from Tokoroa who played rugby, was a builder and struggled to find love. Perhaps he should consider leaving the small fishpond of Tokoroa. Just a suggestion.

Meanwhile, in a different part of the world, another hilarious piece of action was taking place, also playing in the pool of supposed single people, but this one was nothing to do with hooking up and all to do with spending up. It’s an annual unique celebration of singledom. And it’s huge. An orgy of sorts.

Hundreds of millions of people prepare themselves to spend billions of dollars in a shopping frenzy like no other. It is the single biggest shopping event in the world. As the clock turns to midnight e-commerce site Alibaba throws the world’s biggest shopping party, known as Double 11 or Singles’ Day.

A large screen shows total gross merchandise volume, a measure of sales, exceeding 10bn yuan at 00:12am and 28 seconds during Singles Day 2015. 

Sales defy belief. This is like nothing we see.  It’s fast, furious and achieves $14.3 billion in a single-day of trading. And gosh do these guys have fun with it. Something that is not lost on me as the crap we antipodean retailers dish up to our shoppers  every Christmas is painfully absorbed. (When are we going to call time on that people?) 

It is a pure-play online event which Alibaba hosts at TMall. This is an immersive experience with games, contests, prizes scattered across the site. The visual delivery is fun. This year the event was marked with bidding on a Cadillac, and the first hundred people to put a down payment on the car also get to buy it at half price. A creative arts festival runs concurrently, entertaining shoppers for the full 24 hours of the event.

Alibaba launched this event in 2009 as a single’s e-commerce event. Legend has it the idea of a day to celebrate your single-status in China was conceived in the ’90s by young, single girls who wanted some fun, to have a party to celebrate your status (or drink yourself happy about it at one of the many parties). It grew legs and people started buying presents for their single friends. Enter Alibaba.

Now it goes well beyond the original idea and has become a shopping extravaganza, no matter what your status. An excuse to shop for oneself.

The driving force behind the success and growth is the smart application of insights derived from data. This has guided the expansion of the offer from cars, electronics, branded apparel, cosmetics right through to fresh fruit.

As a piece of genius, TMall secure participation upfront prior to the sale, enabling customers to shop early; or secure their part in the event. For example, making a down payment to get deals securing a deeper discount on the day. The continue engagement throughout the day with flash sales

In order to let people pre-shop and increase the gamesmanship, TMall lets consumers start shopping early in several ways. They can make a down payment to get deals, often as little as 10%. In some cases, doing so entitles them to a deeper discount. And there are flash sales. For example, one offered a 999 RMB bottle of Moet Chandon Brut Imperial, already on promotion for 399.80 RMB, for just 11.11 RMB. And then there are ‘red envelopes,’ coupon rewards for early shoppers, who can spend them like cash on the big day.

Daniel Craig helps kick off the extravaganza with Alibaba chairman Jack Ma

Many a seasoned retailer pulls the lever of inflating prices before the event to discount, so there are many products which aren’t much below the actual price. But frankly, who cares? There’s so much fun to be had.

Source: The Telegraph, UK

The results were insane. In just 17 mins sales passed the US$2 billion mark.  

But not everyone wins large. Spare a thought for the couriers. E-commerce has been a huge boost to the logistics industry, but the ever-bigger Singles Day exacerbates the industry’s twin dilemmas of cut-throat competition and rising labour costs. With low barriers to entry, express couriers have proliferated rapidly, squeezing profit margins to about 5pc, down from 30pc 10 years ago, according to analysts. 

(Reuters/Jason Lee)

Storage house full of packages in Guangzhou, China

Some key stats:

- Mobile GMV account for 72% over total GMV

- The total number of mobile buyers was more than 27 million in the first hour

- The festival featured more than 6 million products

- More than 30,000 brands

- Over 40,000 merchants

- Approximately 760 million packages will be delivered from 5,000 warehouses

- Approximately 120,000 orders and 60,000 payments at peak per second

And key players:

 - Alibaba was strong on mobile; 70% of its sales happened on a mobile device

 - Zara led omnichannel, with online to offline (O2O) drivers as one of the few global brands to offer Singles’ Day deal in its stores

 - Huggies piggybacked off Tmall and sold 6 million diapers through its Tmall Global Shop

 - Lancôme preserved brand equity while taking advantage of the holiday. It offered gifts with purchase in lieu of discounts

Image source: Inside Retail Asia

The rest of the world is wading in to join this bacchanalian feast of retail – witness activity from Macy’s, Costco, Nike and Burberry.

I love this event and I love that fact that retailers think long and hard about how exactly are they going to engage shoppers beyond merely product and price.

At the time of writing it is the “morning after” Click Monday and I, for one, did not participate this year. The communications, the offers, the retailers were all a bit ho hum and I suspect the offers will be exceeded over the coming Christmas trading period. So why bother?

All this highlights the need for retailers, more than ever, to formulate an effective online to offline strategy. You need to be competitive and harness the power of social media (not just post crap about yourself – it’s like one way dating). Turn transactional data into insights to improve user experience and product selection.

The key learning?  A successful orgy needs to be fun. Have fun planning it, have fun during it and don’t do it quietly - make sure the whole world is invited and hears the fun you’re having. (In retail anyway).  

Comment