What's Singles Day? Things Every Retailer Should Know

The annual Chinese online shopping holiday known as Singles Day gets a lot of attention for its success, and that’s no surprise when you look at the sales figures. Held each Nov. 11 in the world’s most populous nation, last year it accounted for more than $14 billion in online sales. In comparison, last year the combined US online sales for Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday were $7.5 billion.

There have been Singles Day sales in America for at least two years, and last year shoppers spent $1.5 billion during the holiday. We do have a lot of singles in the United States—124.5 million, or 50.2% of the adult population—and finding ways to appeal to them makes good business sense.

But to grow this holiday in a way that will appeal to America’s singles, retailers need to first understand what made it such a success in China; they also need to be prepared with data and marketing strategies that allow real brand-to-consumer connection.

Retailers saw a giant, underserved market

Singles Day dates to the early 1990s in China, where it originated at Nanjing University. As students graduated and carried the celebration with them into the broader world, raising awareness of just how many singles were out there. Chinese retailers subsequently recognized them as a potentially lucrative market.


American counterparts need to do the same. Singles in the United States carry immense buying power—more than half a trillion dollars just among those age 35-54, according to TPN—and our retailers could do a better job of acknowledging and specifically targeting this segment in their own marketing efforts.

The holiday treats singles with respect

The focus of Singles Day isn’t on providing solace for people because they are single. Instead, retailers present it as an opportunity for singles to pamper themselves, hang out with friends, and exchange gifts. American lifestyle and entertainment brands, such as Apple, Nike, and Disney, have shown they understand this approach; accordingly, they perform well during the Chinese holiday.

Studies have shown that American singles spend more on food and entertainment, and as much on clothing, as their married counterparts. Finding themes like these and applying them to marketing and sales efforts will help create momentum for retailers at all levels, Jane Zhang of research firm Gartner has noted in a report from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

An influential retailer took charge

Singles Day as a shopping holiday took off in China in 2009, when giant online retailer Alibaba started promoting it. A major retailer or brand hasn’t launched Singles Day in America yet, but there is an American example of the impact that that kind of sponsorship can generate: Small Business Saturday.

American Express introduced the “holiday” in 2010 to encourage consumers to make holiday purchases at local stores the day after Black Friday. Small Business Saturday has become a mainstay of the Thanksgiving shopping weekend—sales reached $16.2 billion in 2015, and Congress recognized its importance with a resolution.

Even if you don’t have AmEx’s bank balance to promote a new holiday like Singles Day, you can still take a page from its playbook. Early on, it offered cardholders a $25 credit for spending $25 at a small business on Small Business Saturday. Savvy retailers can offer their own incentives on Singles Day, which would help anchor the holiday in shoppers’ minds.

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If Singles Day in America is going to grow from a good shopping holiday to an amazing one, retailers need to heed these lessons:

  • They must recognize that singles are a distinct group that needs to be included in marketing efforts.
  • Those efforts need to have the right attitude, one that celebrates singlehood and places value on things singles are most interested in, like dining and entertainment.
  • And retailers must become daily champions of the marketing tactics that allow them to take advantage of any new trend, whether it is a one-hit wonder or a deep shift in the patterns of retail shopping and buying.

That’s how retailers can help raise the profile of Singles Day in America and take advantage of this opportunity to win over half of the country’s population by finally giving it a day of its own.

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