For an average North American consumer, there are a few days that are as highly anticipated as the Black Friday or the following Cyber Monday, this year to fall on November 25th and November 28th respectively.
These days are the staples of a modern consumerism, well known for it’s “door crushers” and viral videos of a full blown stampede in retail stores. The same thing goes on invisibly online, where e-tailers are working hard overtime to prepare servers for the onslaught of consumers.
Black Friday originated around 1961, but haven’t really caught up until the age of consumerism in mid to late 90’s. With the rise of popularity, it crept into into everyday lives and now stands as the dominant sales event of the year.
In China, however, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are almost completely ignored. Instead, the biggest Chinese online sale event falls on November 11, or 11.11, called Guāng gùn Jié (光棍节 — bare sticks holiday).
Guanggunjie is an engineered holiday, first started by Alibaba to spur the sales in 2009. There is some indication that Alibaba wanted a Black Friday-alternative, but with a local Chinese flair, and Singles Day, known around China at the time, was a familiar informal holiday for internet-savvy young, and often single, males, which seemed like a perfect demographic to launch with.
Up until 2012, Alibaba used the traditional term known around China, guanggunjie, until it shifted to a trademarked name “shuangshiyi” to promote the event.
These days, Shuāng shíyī (双十一, double eleven), is so important to Alibaba’s marketing team, that it threatens and actively pursues anyone who wants to use it in their marketing.
The growth of guanggunjie has been incredible, fuelled by the rise of China’s internet population, now estimated at more than 720 million people, and the spread of smartphones, now estimated at around 380 million, which are more actively used for e-commerce.
According to Forbes contributor Frank Lavin, this year Singles Day is estimated to bring Alibaba about $21 USD billion in sales, or about $875 USD million in sales per hour. It’s hard to put a finger on total online sales in China during Singles Day, but a rough estimate would be in $60–80 USD billion range.
While North American companies, which are not currently present in China, might find it hard to contemplate how exactly to enter this thriving market, it’s not as hard as it looks — companies can start with localizing pages in Chinese, ensuring that prices are shown in a local currency, renminbi (RMB), and working with payment gateways that accept Chinese credit and debit cards, mainly UnionPay, and, of course, being sensitive to the fact that a lot of services you might rely on, like Google Forms or Google Maps, are not accessible in China.
After the Singles Day, the next big e-commerce event will be during China’s New Year celebration on January 28, 2017, when hundreds of millions of Chinese will be sending virtual red envelopes, hong bao (红包) to friends and relatives using WeChat and Alipay. Last year over 8 billion red envelopes have been sent over WeChat, a 8x increase over a year before that , so around Chinese New Year next January, WeChat might have an explosion in the number of hong bao being sent, to 24–30 billion envelopes.
Evgeny Tchebotarev, who previously founded 500px, has spent 8 month travelling throughout South East Asia and China, connecting with VC’s, startups, incubators, and entrepreneurs, all while learning and giving talks on entrepreneurship, fundraising, and product management. He has consulted companies based out in Bali, Shanghai, Taipei, and Hong Kong.
Evgeny is currently helping North American companies expand to China and South East Asia. You can reach him on tweet or at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you enjoyed the story, please tap on the heart icon to recommend it to others.