Practicology chairman and White Stuff non-executive director Martin Newman was in Shanghai for Alibaba’s Singles’ Day – the world’s biggest shopping festival – on 11 November.
With Black Friday upon us, UK retailers and brands are asking themselves how they can create buzz around what they are selling online without resorting to deep discounting.
It might be a little late to take on board this year, but for future reference western retailers should certainly draw inspiration from the east, and specifically the increasingly global phenomenon that is Singles’ Day.
I was lucky enough to be invited to the live event in Shanghai by Alibaba, as part of its Key Influencers Programme, and spent 24 hours watching the live 11.11 shoppable show, and media centre watching the sales stack up.
It’s like the opening of the Harrods’ Sale, a fashion show, pop concert and Black Friday have all been rolled into one. Most importantly, it reminded me that shopping can, and should, be fun.
Kicking off the evening before Singles’ Day, Alibaba has become famous for its live countdown gala show, which this year featured celebrities including Nicole Kidman, Pharrell Williams, Jesse J and Luis Figo.
Live-streaming is a huge trend in China, and consumers there are encouraged to order products displayed during the gala straight away, and the Tmall app complements what they are seeing on their TV screens. Around 90% of sales during the event are made via smartphones.
I spent 24 hours watching the live 11.11 shoppable show and media centre watching the sales stack up
With an estimated audience of 300 million, the show helps to stoke demand and has enabled Alibaba to position Singles’ Day as a festival, rather than just a discounting frenzy. Special edition and unique product is increasingly important to the event, and allows retailers and brands to make sales without slashing prices.
Once the bell sounded for the start of 11.11 proper, we were whisked on to the media centre – an experience in its own right – to watch the numbers begin to rise. Large screens displayed volumes of data, including satellite views of China showing the trends in where orders were being placed, demographics and more.
Top international brands on the day included Uniqlo, Vero Moda, Nike, Adidas and Skechers.
The festival embodies many of the trends that western retailers and brands are being urged to adopt to survive in this tough climate in which we find ourselves. There’s content, it’s highly visual, there’s a sense of entertainment and theatre – and yet at the same time Alibaba has a relentless focus on making it easy for customers to shop how they want (mainly on mobile).
Look beyond the huge sale number – $25bn in gross merchandise value this year – and there is much that western retailers can learn and replicate.