Singles’ Day Draws in Online Shoppers

China Daily reports Singles’ Day promotions have successfully draw in online shoppers. This report comes amid  the shift in political power with the 18th party congress and claims of the continuing need for economic growth:

By 7 pm on Sunday, 14.1 billion yuan of transactions were made on Tmall and Taobao, the two online shopping websites of Alibaba.

That could make Singles’ Day the biggest e-commerce sales day on record. The research company comScore said US online retailers saw $1.25 billion of sales during last year’s Cyber Monday, the day after Thanksgiving weekend and the busiest day for online retailers as US shoppers start to prepare for Christmas.

“In the past, people only shopped online occasionally, but now, online shopping is a lifestyle embraced by many,” said Zhang Yong, Tmall president.

“I don’t know whether we would lose money, but I don’t think we could earn much on this day by selling goods at half price,” said Hao Hongfeng, chairman of Beijing Jiuxian E-Commerce, a liquor retailer in Beijing who took part in the event.

Although the demand for Chinese exports is down, the holiday has boosted sales in China. According to AP, the holiday began in the 1990s among Chinese college students:

Singles Day was begun by Chinese college students in the 1990s as a version of Valentine’s Day for people without romantic partners. The timing was based on the date: Nov. 11, or “11.11” — four singles. Unattached young people would treat each other to dinner or give gifts to woo that special someone and end their single status.

That gift-giving helped to turn it into a major shopping event as sellers of everything from jewelry to TVs to cars saw a marketing opportunity and launched Singles Day sales. It is China’s answer to Cyber Monday in the United States — the day after Thanksgiving weekend, when online Christmas shopping begins and merchants have their busiest sales day.

China has the world’s biggest population of Internet users, with 538 million people online. Its population of online shoppers also is the biggest at 193 million, versus 170 million for the United States, according to Boston Consulting Group. It trails the U.S. and Japan in online spending but, despite average incomes less than one-tenth the American level, is forecast to rise to first place as early as 2015.

The Communist Party’s latest five-year development plan calls for more than quadrupling annual e-commerce volume from 2010 levels to 18 trillion yuan ($2.9 trillion) by 2015. The party tries to block access to online material deemed subversive or pornographic but promotes Web use for business and education.

While the holiday focuses on singles, the online sales are not only geared at single people, and  it has been likened to the “hallmark” holiday, from the Wall Street Journal:

The push as Chinese companies discover the potential sales to be made in corporate commemorations, otherwise known to Western greeting-card buyers as “Hallmark holidays” after the card maker.

In countries such as the U.S., holidays such as Valentine’s Day or Father’s Day have often been promoted as key occasions to splurge on a gift for a loved one. And holidays like these have helped propel consumer spending beyond Christmas, the biggest shopping season of the year in the U.S.

In China, where the government is keen to create willful spenders out of scrimping savers, holidays have been welcomed with open arms. Even the adoption of the shopping mall Santa and chocolate Easter-bunnies have been easy sells to the agnostic country looking to rev up cash register rings.

And not all consumers are buying into holidays like Singles Day either. One user of China’s social networking site Sina Weibo wrote on his microblog that those who were actually single on Singles Day were lucky because they could opt out of these kinds of marketing gimmicks. “How about having a girlfriend who wakes you up to snap up deals on Taobao at midnight for Singles Day sales,” he said.

Despite the success of the online retailers, there has been backlash from the Global Times criticizing the holiday for its ‘crass consumerism’:

It seems that Singles’ Day is gradually turning into a carnival of shopping. With its commercialization, our focus has shifted from concern with single people to crass consumerism. We are used to the existence of a large number of singles and to celebrate Singles’ Day with them.

But it is not a healthy social phenomenon for so many people to be living a single life. The increase in their numbers is a byproduct of rapid social development. Current society is fast-paced and high-pressured within which love is a time-consuming and high-cost activity for many young people. Inflation and sustained high housing prices increase the cost of marriage. These social problems make wedded bliss a luxury to those who lack financial security.

The era when marriages were arranged is long gone. People have more freedom to select their mates, but it is increasingly difficult for them to choose one because of material obstacles. Singles’ Day shows a culture that is happily more tolerant toward singles but also reflects many people’s helplessness at unaffordable marriages.

Merchants will search for other promotional tools after Singles’ Day and the public’s focus will move on. However, the social problems that singles are facing may soon be neglected. These problems should not be covered by commercialization of Singles’ Day, but require long-term public attention and thought.

November 13, 2012 11:31 AM
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Categories: Economy, Society