A look back at Singles’ Day, and what retailers can learn from it

China registered yet another record-breaking Singles’ Day, which took place last month. The shopping event generated RMB 498.2 billion ($72.11 billion) in sales on Alibaba’s Tmall, up 85.6% year over year. Sales on JD.com rose by 32.8% over 2019 to RMB 271.5 billion ($39.30 billion).

Singles’ Day was a success this year for a variety of reasons. Livestreaming commerce—a trend that emerged amid the pandemic—proved itself on the big stage. During the Singles’ Day presales, which started on October 21 this year, Alibaba’s Taobao Live saw sales exceed last year’s entire first day of presales in the first 10 minutes. Many retailers in China have already been leveraging this technology for months. As with any new service, it continues to evolve and mature.

And as retailers prepare for upcoming shopping events, they should certainly focus on this area to drive engagement—and ultimately sales. Brands should also be mindful of how much control they are willing to cede in the livestreaming experience. “Any brand can add livestreaming to its strategy, but many should be careful about how they collaborate with influencers, as brands lose a lot of control with livestreaming,” said Arnold Ma, founder and CEO of digital creative agency Qumin.

“This is mainly referring to the ‘live’ nature of working with livestreamers,” he said. “Normally, there isn’t a script, so the content isn’t polished the way it might be for a social media post. The best you can do is brief the livestreamer and hope they expand into content that matches your brand content requirements.

“A tip is to build in-house capabilities, so that [you] have more control. We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg here. So, an investment in livestreaming is an investment in the future.”

The success of Singles’ Day 2020 wasn’t only because of new and shiny technology. Traditional forms of marketing, such as product launches, also drove the record-shattering sales. “A lot of brands don’t actually offer great deals, but they do provide something special for the hundreds of millions of participating consumers, such as interesting new product launches or limited-edition products,” said Mark Tanner, managing director at Shanghai-based marketing and research agency China Skinny.

This year’s event was full of such promotions, including an exclusive Air Jordan sneaker release, as well as a merchandise drop for Taylor Swift’s new album. The merchandise was available exclusively to consumers in China during the Singles’ Day event before being released globally.

While there are many things brands can learn from Singles’ Day in terms of what did work, looking at what didn’t quite work is just as important.

“Some consumers complained about the complicated discount rules,” said Ashley Galina Dudarenok, founder of Alarice, a social media agency focused on the China market. “Merchants need to simplify the shopping process and make rules easier to understand.”

“While it may be challenging, given the volume of orders on Singles’ Day, providing quality after-sales service is also key,” she said.