Is it time for U.S. retailers to embrace Singles Day?

Photo: Alibaba
Nov 12, 2018
Tom Ryan

Singles Day, essentially China’s equivalent of Black Friday, crushed previous sales records yesterday as the promotional event spread to more countries, including the U.S. 

Started as an anti-Valentine’s Day movement by college students in 1993, the day initially encouraged unmarried Chinese to buy gifts for themselves. Over the years, however, it has morphed into a day for anybody to treat themselves. Held annually on 11/11, Alibaba transformed the informal holiday into a shopping event in 2009 with widespread online discounts across its websites, including Taobao and Tmall.  

Alibaba racked up more than $30.8 billion in sales during the 24-hour shopping event, up nearly 27 percent year-over-year and double the $14.5 billion taken online from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday in the U.S. in 2017. July’s 36-hour Prime Day netted an estimated $4.2 billion. 

Hyped by a gala Saturday night in Shanghai featuring singer Mariah Carey, supermodel Miranda Kerr and a performance from Cirque du Soleil, Alibaba’s Singles Day sales hit $1 billion in one minute and 25 seconds. Alibaba earned a boost by adding participation of its Southeast Asia unit Lazada as well as subsidiaries, Koubei, supermarket chain Hema and other business units.

Other Chinese retailers, including, have joined the holiday, and Single Days deals again cropped up in other countries, including the U.S. as Chinese living abroad and Chinese-Americans embraced the event.

In keeping with the holiday’s focus on luxury and fashion, Saks, Barneys and Urban Outfitters offered 11 percent off all online sales in the U.S. on Sunday, but the shopping holiday isn’t widely promoted in the U.S. The event fights for attention with Black Friday and Cyber Monday ads already running. Still, some see it becoming more global in ensuing years.

Kate Walters, executive planning director and head of strategy at digital agency Swirl mcgarrybowen, told Adweek, “Given Prime Day’s popularity, there may well be room for a [fourth] manufactured shopping holiday in the U.S., and Singles Day — with its spirit of treating yourself — fits nicely with other behaviors we see from millennial audiences.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see Singles Day becoming a regular shopping event for U.S. retailers in the years ahead? Will the event’s appeal be largely confined to Chinese living in the U.S. and Chinese Americans or do you see it achieving a broader reach?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"It's in U.S. retailers' interests to embrace a global shopping festival that happens earlier than Black Friday."
"The innovation and sheer volumes coming out of Asia have become impossible to ignore and the pressure of improving sales will drive one or more of the larger US retailers..."
"Singles Day fits in nicely with the “treat yo self” mindset that Millennials (and many other shoppers!) already have."

Join the Discussion!

18 Comments on "Is it time for U.S. retailers to embrace Singles Day?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Charles Dimov

Right now there is room for innovation in shopping promos. Everyone’s focus is on Black Friday and early Black Friday deals. Well, this would be a good way for U.S. retailers to try something new — something that doesn’t strike customers as just another sales extension gimmick.

For Singles Day to really take root in U.S. means Alibaba has to become a much more substantial player in the market. They are growing, but they are not there yet. Once they do meet a certain critical mass, I can see the same effect here — yes.

Nikki Baird
There are a couple of things here. One, Alibaba themselves are trying to rebrand Singles Day to “Global Shopping Festival.” I think they recognize that they can one-up Black Friday by coming in a couple of weeks earlier if they can broaden the appeal. In the U.S., it happens to coincide with Veterans Day, and globally there is now higher awareness that this also coincides with WWI Armistice, as we just celebrated the 100th anniversary of that yesterday. Those are two events that don’t really mesh together well — honoring selflessness with a “treat yourself” mentality? I just don’t see that working. Two, with $30+ billion in GMV trading hands on that one day, I don’t see how it can be ignored, even with the Veterans Day complication. The Chinese market, and the Chinese diaspora is large enough that I think this will ultimately have global power, and meaning beyond China. Three, it’s in U.S. retailers’ interests to embrace a global shopping festival that happens earlier than Black Friday. Concentrating so much U.S. spend on… Read more »
Neil Saunders

I think it will become more common, especially as it is already important to many Chinese Americans.

However, retailers need to take care in what they import. Singles Day comes just a bit before Black Friday and too much focus on it will simply dilute the impact of Black Friday sales. It will also mean another period of deep promotional discounts, which is arguably the last thing retailers need. For this reason, I think there will be a reluctance to embrace it too heavily.

Art Suriano

I love the concept, and it’s possible in time with the right marketing and promotion the idea might catch on, but I don’t see that happening anytime too soon. We have so many shopping holidays as it is and today with the focus being heavily on off-price, even some of the most popular holiday shopping dates are not as strong as they once were. Today we have too much of everything with intense competition. So for a new shopping holiday to catch on, it will require significant promotion which is extremely costly and most likely not going to be worth it.

Cynthia Holcomb

Singles Day has a fun sentiment! Yet I don’t see how U.S. retailers can whip up a shopping frenzy every 11/11 only to come back a couple weeks later with Black Friday. It might start to look and feel like an “everyday discounting” rabbit hole during the fall shopping months — a time retailers need to capitalize on higher profit margins, not discounts. I love a good party, but even too much sun burns!

Brandon Rael

In our commerce at any time, any place world, customers are always looking for the next deal, great experience, and a compelling reason to shop. The size, scale, reach and sheer momentum around the Singles Day is truly spectacular. Alibaba has created such excitement and enthusiasm around this event, that it has virtually has evolved into a Chinese national holiday.

However for the moment it is confined to China, and while it has created some buzz/interest, the broader U.S. market is not on the Alibaba platform or even aware of this shopping event. It’s challenging enough for retailers, both digital natives and traditional brick-and-mortar retailers to meet and exceed their Black Friday selling goals.

Perhaps if and when Alibaba slowly increases its presence in the Western world this selling event will achieve scale outside of China. For now, we can sit back and marvel at the outstanding results, and the next Alibaba presentation at the NRF.

Rich Kizer

Customers will shop if given great deals, period! No matter what it is called. Now, if we think that these sales events have to have a theme or cause, let’s create the title. That’s exactly what we do. And what could be better that titling a sale to celebrate a cause or or generation, or whatever? That will work. Nothing new here. I am sure it will get traction if properly promoted in America. And we will ring registers.

Meaghan Brophy

Singles Day fits in nicely with the “treat yo self” mindset that Millennials (and many other shoppers!) already have. I’m puzzled on why U.S. retailers haven’t tried to capitalize on Singles Day. Many shoppers already plan to buy for themselves during Black Friday/Cyber Monday. Having a dedicated day for that earlier in the month would increase (and draw out) overall holiday season sales.

Ricardo Belmar

With the size and momentum Singles Day is carrying now, it is inevitable that it will reach a global scope that U.S. retailers cannot ignore. The challenge is the close proximity to Black Friday. Unless retailers transform November into an all month discount affair, I can see how this would cause consumers either confusion or the belief that it’s just another Black Friday gimmick. Overall, I believe there is room for another “fabricated” shopping holiday, Prime Day taught us that! It will take Alibaba fully driving this in the U.S. market to provide the kick-start needed to turn Singles Day into a global event.

Shep Hyken

Just brilliant! Love this concept of Singles Day. It’s another holiday that can be celebrated at many levels. While it may have started in China, it can have universal appeal. It’s not religious and has no agenda, other than to make a person feel good.

From the retail level, this is another opportunity to promote. The caution is that a sales event can be created for virtually every week of the year, if not every day. When is it too much? The best retailers will provide the right balance and promotion to take advantage of Singles Day — or any other manufactured holiday/event worth getting excited about.

Jeff Sward

It’s hard to predict a positive outcome here. It’s yet another highly promotional day added to the calendar, probably just siphoning sales from later in the month. So much for Black Friday, which was creeping earlier and earlier. And yet, it’s probably inevitable. Even after retailers learned that adding another “one day sale” to the calendar was not only failing to grow business, it was shrinking the margins, they did it anyway. Singles Day will certainly creep into the USA calendar, faster than we think. Retailer creativity will again be tested. Has anybody studied what happened to Chinese retail sales for the 2-3 weeks before and after Singles Day as that day’s sales have exploded over the years?

Michael Decker

Very interesting cultural phenomenon. Traditionally China has NOT been successful in gaining international attention with homegrown, cultural celebrations — apart from the Olympics which is intrinsically international. I see a backlash burgeoning in the US beginning with our youngest two generations against “self-centered materialism” given the current state of affairs with our political climate.

Alibaba is wise to try and re-brand “Singles Day” to a “Global Shopping Festival”. That strategy will engender many more consumers outside of the US, for sure. I have doubts, however, for a continuation of its massive appeal in the US Marketplace given our increasingly insular trade practice and protectionist, consumer attitudes.

Ed Rosenbaum

In my humble opinion, this can become the next great event for retailers. I can see how singles will jump on this, especially the millenials. It appears to be a fun event filled will sales and entertainment. Far different from Black Friday. I am not sure why so many people want to get up and be at a store before dawn only to fight massive crowds to get the limited number of loss leaders and door busters. My concern is the date. The date will certainly conflict with Black Friday making both less successful.

Craig Sundstrom

What curious timing: on a day devoted to remembering those who sacrificed for others, we’re discussing a day devoted to buying something for oneself.
But no matter, back to the question: no I don’t see this as becoming a major event here; actually I’m having a hard time picturing it having become a big event anywhere, but perhaps in a country where deprivation and self-sacrifice are the norm…I don’t think that’s the U.S.

Ken Morris

Alibaba has high aspirations of expanding its business in the U.S. and I suspect that they will extend Singles Day to the U.S. as part of this strategy. Today, most Americans are not familiar with Singles Day, so it will need to be supported with a strong marketing campaign. However, we all love deals and, if Alibaba can expand its availability of products in the U.S. to be competitive with Amazon, they could make it a success.

While it may never reach the level of success it has in China or exceed Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it can be relevant. Like Amazon, we shouldn’t underestimate Alibaba. Maybe they should call it Festivus for the rest of us…

Michael La Kier

Singles Day has become a cultural event – and not just a shopping day – because it tapped into a human truth and offered retail as a solution. Singles Day offers people an excuse to spend on themselves before the more altruistic holiday season. In the US multiple retailers are jumping on the bandwagon…as they should…before Alibaba becomes a big player here.

James Tenser

Singles Day is a great story, but we shouldn’t underestimate how specific it is to the consumer culture of China. It grew somewhat organically from a consumer trend. It is absolutely secular. In its home country there is no crowding from Halloween or Thanksgiving as it would have in the U.S.
American retailers could certainly jump on the Singles Day bandwagon. If they do, they will need to consider how much complexity it adds to the Fall selling season and whether it merely shifts spending a couple weeks earlier in the fourth quarter.
Consumer wallets may not be elastic enough to buy in to another holiday. If the credit card bills from Singles Day arrive in early December, it may have a cooling effect on holiday sales.

Mike Osorio

Just as the non-Christmas celebrating world long ago adopted the Christmas themed holiday shopping decor and events, based on the dominance of American/Western commerce and the need to manufacture reasons to shop, so will the Western world begin adopt the engines of Chinese/Asian commerce. How quickly? I would wager it will be rather soon (within this decade). The innovation and sheer volumes coming out of Asia have become impossible to ignore and the pressure of improving sales will drive one or more of the larger US retailers to go after 11/11 – probably Amazon.

"It's in U.S. retailers' interests to embrace a global shopping festival that happens earlier than Black Friday."
"The innovation and sheer volumes coming out of Asia have become impossible to ignore and the pressure of improving sales will drive one or more of the larger US retailers..."
"Singles Day fits in nicely with the “treat yo self” mindset that Millennials (and many other shoppers!) already have."

Take Our Instant Poll

What’s the likelihood that Singles Day will become a fairly well-known shopping event for U.S. retail over the next five years?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...