Alibaba’s Double Eleven festival has outgrown the Chinese Internet
Double Eleven (11.11 or 双十一), the Chinese e-commerce sale that dwarves the United States’ Black Friday, this year took place for the eighth time.
Last year, we reported that Double Eleven had already transcended not only Single’s Day, the anti-Valentine’s Day on which it was founded, but also its status as a flash sale. Double Eleven has become a full blown cultural phenomenon, and this year it aspired to more than ever before.
The 11.11 Gala and VR shopping
Alibaba, the parent company of e-commerce giants Taobao and Tmall, collaborated with Zhejiang Television, one of China’s most influential stations, to broadcast its second ever 11.11 Gala. Directed by Australian David Hill, former Fox Sports executive and producer of this year’s Oscar’s. Broadly modelled on CCTV’s annual Spring Festival Gala, Ali’s 11.11 Gala invited a star-studded cast including Kobe Bryant, David and Victoria Beckham, Kevin Spacey and Alibaba founder Jack Ma.
With 11.11’s huge popularity, and Alibaba’s ability to collect data from consumers, the company sees it as an opportunity to test technological innovations and new financial services. An Augmented Reality app allowed users to collect discount coupon cats the way Pokemon GO! players collect bulbosaurs. Its zero-interest payment installments option (蚂蚁花呗) lured people into spending beyond more than they’d planned.
Double Eleven goes abroad, meets up in real life
11.11’s influence has also reached into bricks-and-mortar stores in China. Besides promotions in supermarkets and ads for 11.11 sales on boutique windows, Department store chain Intime allowed shoppers to scan QR codes in their stores to check discounts for 11.11 and pre-order items. Also, if items sold out online, shoppers could go to the bricks-and-mortar store to pick them up at the discounted price.
With cross-border e-commerce on the rise in China, 37 per cent of buyers bought from a total of 235 foreign countries during the 11.11 promotions.
Dealmoon (北美省钱快报), a US based retail site for Chinese-Americans seeking bargains, was one of the earliest to adopt 11.11 promotions. Collaborating with major luxury department stores like Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, it is promoted as a premium version of America’s own Black Friday, which mainly focuses on electronics and digital appliances.
Another example is LN-CC, a London fashion boutique who also launched its 11.11 promotional code on its online store. Both platforms communicate to Chinese consumers on Chinese social media such as Weibo.
Hysterical consumption and the JD.com backlash
Alibaba focused its ad campaigns on an “All in One” message, offering one destination where people could do all their shopping, building momentum from each of their brand’s promotions.
As well as live streaming its TV gala, Alibaba displayed sales records breaking in real time. “52s GMV 1+ billion”, appeared on screen, telling viewers that a Gross Merchandising Value of 1 billion RMB had been spent in the first 52 seconds. Double Eleven surpassed the whole day sales total for 2013 within one hour.
Ultimately, sales for Double Eleven this year totalled 120.7 billion RMB, far surpassing 2015’s 91.2 billion. The sales resulted in over 1.5 billion packages being sent in just five days.
In the lead up to Double Eleven, rival e-commerce platform JD.com ran a marketing campaign that tapped into shoppers’ self-scrutiny over irrational, hotheaded and hysterical buying in previous years. They employed quality over quantity arguments in a campaign featuring a hipster saying, “I need a word with you Double Eleven.” The overall sense of less noise and more clarity on JD’s homepage and social media created a calmer, more “rational” shopping mood. They nevertheless shared how quickly they exceeded last year’s sales.
Are Chinese consumers getting sick of Double Eleven?
Though Double Eleven has demonstrated its potential to expand in new directions, and sales are higher than ever, there are signs people are becoming disenchanted with the event. Baidu searches for Double Eleven (双十一) are down and research shows that while more people are aware of the event, fewer people say they like it and take part.
Jack Ma, the one-time English teacher, sees his Alibaba empire as an entire economy rather than just an e-commerce platform. He once described his bold plan to overturn the concept of e-commerce, “Double Eleven is meant to propel the infrastructure of Chinese commerce. In the future 10 to 20 years, the biggest opportunity and challenge is to fuse online and offline, traditional and the internet world. Our goal is to empower merchants with the ability to transform and upgrade their business for the future.”
- Article by Stephanie Fan