What is Singles Day? Definition + What Happens (2024)

Singles Day

Single’s Day in China has become the largest online shopping event since it launched in 2009. What started as a one-day thing, has turned into a two-week sprint for physical and digital retailers alike. It's become bigger than America's biggest shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

In 2023, Alibaba and JD.com reported record Singles Day sales, with an estimated $156 billion, almost double the worth of sales in 2021. In the US, Singles Day generated over $3.2 billion in online sales, a mere sliver of action compared to China. 

There’s a lot to learn from the way the manufactured holiday has blossomed into an extreme, nearly instantaneous moneymaker—lessons you can apply to your own growing business.

Table of contents:

What is Singles Day?

Singles Day, celebrated on November 11, is a sales event that originated in China. But it wasn’t always a shopping bonanza. In fact, it began as a kind of anti-Valentine's Day—a day for singles to treat and celebrate themselves in the same way couples and families get celebrated at various milestones. Think Carrie Bradshaw and the Sex and the City episode ‘A woman’s right to shoes’. Since then, it has become the biggest online shopping day in China, bigger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

Why is Singles Day celebrated?

In Chinese numerology, numbers carry a ton of significance. While the number one can signify a win (ie. first place), it also represents loneliness or a solo relationship status. The holiday started at Nanjing University as a way for students to celebrate their singledom (it was founded by four single young men, which is why it was originally called Bachelor’s Day). It’s also known as the “bare sticks holiday” because of the way four ‘1s’ appear in the calendar. 

The Chinese holiday caught on, particularly among young people, in 2009,  when Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma harnessed the day’s moneymaking potential by offering mega deals to swarms of shoppers. Singles Day is now celebrated in many countries around the world, like Malaysia, Australia, the UK, India, and Russia.

How is Singles Day different from Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM) is a traditionally U.S.-based Thanksgiving weekend sales event, which started in bricks-and-mortar and moved to ecommerce over the following years. Despite Asia Pacific’s lack of a Thanksgiving holiday weekend, BFCM has been embraced in the region, outstripping the sales of both Clickfrenzy and the traditional Boxing Day sales. If leveraged effectively, this type of special seasonal sales event can make the year of some retailers.

Singles Day is concentrated primarily within ecommerce marketplace Alibaba and its affiliate sites, Taobao (consumer to consumer) and Tmall (business to consumer)—for now. Tmall is actually the driver of Singles Day, and more than 200,000 brands on its site offered deeply discounted items this year.

Image of screen showing Singles Day sales in 2019

[CAPTION] Singles Day sales surpassed RMB 10 billion in 1 minute and 36 seconds in 2019. Forbes

Despite the concentration of sales to these major outlets, the event has grown to almost eight times the size of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which is unheard of. Another major difference, though? You’re unlikely to find Western brands such as Apple, although you can increasingly find products from companies including Dyson and Spanish beauty company MartiDerm.

Why should you observe Singles Day?

The obvious advantage of a boost in sales aside, singles should be celebrated, too. There are many milestones couples achieve which are celebrated with gifts, but beyond the simple birthday, singles have no celebrated occasions.

Singles are also a relatively untapped market, and yet have higher disposable incomes than the traditional nuclear family. Whether young, newly divorced or retired, singles are on the rise; some 27% of US households are home to one person, and this trend is being replicated globally.

Why is Singles Day so successful?

It probably helps that Alibaba is the world’s biggest ecommerce company with sales outpacing eBay and Amazon combined—and its sales are bottom-of-the-barrel cheap. The sales platform and its affiliates sell wholesale items as well as direct-to-consumer and it also allows shoppers to sell to one another as well. The Singles Day sales are complete steals: One yea, Alibaba had Bluetooth earbuds on offer for $1.50–$6.90 for TWO pairs. 

The incredibly low prices of these products must have something to do with the sales platform’s wild Singles Day success. A post on Quora by a merchandiser who uses Alibaba said the site is so cheap because of the low cost of labor in China, the way the site sells in bulk (why not buy two pairs of Bluetooth earbuds if they’re only $6?), the low cost of electricity and less consumer targeting. 

Why is there less consumer targeting? Because the site is mostly set up to sell to merchandisers, who are stocking their own shops with these products. That said, Alibaba does have a wholesale market that sells products to individuals for personal use, as well as Aliexpress.com — both participants in Singles Day.

There is, however, some skepticism about the sales reporting Alibaba is claiming related to Singles Day. According to The New York Times, “The big numbers that Alibaba likes to show off on Singles Day are not a perfect gauge of how all this might be affecting middle-class China’s appetite for retail therapy.” Alibaba reports gross merchandise volume, which represents the total value of orders on its platforms, the Times says—something that, in actuality, is pretty hard to track because, the Times reports, there is no standardized way of measuring it.

Singles Day strategies for retailers

Participation in Singles Day is quickly becoming a requirement for any international brand interested in tapping the massive Chinese market. Start folding the event into your growth plans if you’d like to expand into that global ecommerce goldmine. 

  1. Mobile first. Estimates show that mobile users worldwide stand at 7.41 billion. That’s a lot of mobile shoppers ready to browse your site. Make sure your website is mobile-friendly and fast to encourage sales. 
  2. Put treats on sale, not just essentials. This is a day for singles to treat and nurture themselves, so think special events, travel, beauty and hair, clothes and fashion, and even dating apps, to pamper singles on their special day.
  3. Be a place for community. Now more than ever, brands are becoming a way for like-minded people to meet and connect in an online environment. People can share and discuss what they love about their favorite brands (and give brands good insight into their customers in the process). Encourage and facilitate a healthy, online community based on positivity and shared values—it could be a way for singles to meet!
  4. Make it about value and appreciation. The traditional platforms involved in this event make it well worth the shoppers while, with steep discounts and special offers across a variety of products. To be noticed, make it big—small discounts and non-offers won’t cut it.
  5. Leverage social media and influencers. Use platforms like Weibo, WeChat, and Douyin (TikTok in China) to promote your products. Collaborating with influencers can significantly boost visibility.
  6. Offer fast and reliable shipping. Customers expect their orders to be delivered promptly and without any damage or errors. By partnering with reputable local couriers who have a proven track record for on-time deliveries, you can enhance the customer experience. For instance, offering next-day delivery for metropolitan areas and ensuring that customers receive real-time tracking updates can significantly boost appeal.

Have customer support in Mandarin. Your company can better serve customers in Mandarin-speaking regions by having a local customer service team available around the clock. In addition to handling inquiries, resolving issues, and providing post-purchase support, they can handle inquiries, resolve issues, and provide live chat, email, and social media support.

Singles Day FAQs

Why is 11.11 Singles Day?

November 11th (11.11) is Singles Day because the number '1' represents someone who is alone. Although it's not an officially recognized public holiday, this date was specifically chosen as a symbol of single people.

What is the history of Singles Day?

As a way to celebrate singles, Singles Day was invented at Nanjing University in 1993. Originally, it was just a day for young singles to celebrate their single status or look for a partner, but soon spread to become a popular day for singles in China.

What is China's Singles Day and how is it celebrated?

November 11th is China's Singles Day, a day for singles to celebrate their status. In the last few years, it's turned into one of the biggest online shopping days in the world, far surpassing Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

About the author

Sarah Boesveld

Sarah Boesveld is a Toronto-based freelance journalist who has been a staff reporter for Chatelaine, The National Post, and The Globe and Mail.

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