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What have Chinese bought during Singles Day?

Martin Guo

Editor-in-Chief, Kantar China Insights

Shoppers 18.11.2016 / 11:45

Buying button 2 col

Online survey reveals how much they spent, what categories they bought, which e-commerce platforms were leading, how many people regretted.

China’s Singles Day sales lifted the world’s largest e-commerce sales event to a new level. The most commonly quoted data in the media include: Alibaba’s platforms (Tmall and Taobao) sold goods worth of 120.7 billion yuan in 24 hours, 32.1% higher than a year ago; JD.com’s sales grew 59% on-year. But how about the overall online shopper behaviour?

Kantar commissioned CTR (note 1) to launch a post Singles Day purchasing behaviour survey on November 12, right after the Singles Day (November 11) while the panellists’ memory were still fresh. The design of the questionnaire enabled us to compare the answers with a pre Singles Day purchasing intention survey (note 2) so we could compare what people thought they might do with what they actually did.

On Singles Day, it took just 52 seconds for the transaction value to surpass 1 billion yuan on Tmall; and within 7 minutes it burst through 10 billion yuan. This echoed well with our data: after factoring out those who didn’t shop on Singles Day (note 3), nearly 30% respondents with purchasing behaviour placed their orders in the first hour, making it the busiest hour of the Singles Day. The amount of people placing order began to climb after 6 am and hit the second peak between 9 am and 10 am: nearly 15% people placed orders in that hour. The third peak was at between 8 pm and 9 pm, when nearly 10% was buying. The soft patch was the evening rush hour of 4 pm till 7 pm.



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Serious buyers have done their homework

The sheer amount of orders placed at the first hour showed that people have done their pre-shopping research thoroughly. About 30% respondents said they started to do their research for Singles Day shopping list “two weeks ahead”, 40% mentioned “two to three days earlier”. There are 22% people said they “didn’t do any research and bought whatever they like on Singles Day”. (note 4)

As for the expenses on that day, about 30% said they spent 500 yuan or less. About 35% said they spend between 500 and 2,000 yuan and about 15% between 2,000 and 6,000 yuan. The mean figure for actual spending was 1,667 yuan, less than 1,899 yuan in our pre Singles Day survey.



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Regret? What regret?

In recent days it’s easy to see people say they regret they’d spent too much on Singles Day, but our survey found they were the minority: only 8.31% said they’d “bought too many”. About 35% said they’d “bought just right”, and 24% “don’t care if it’s too many or too few”. Another 16% said they regretted they’d bought too few.

We can see the same mood reflected in respondents’ replies to budget-related question: only 13% said they had spent over their budget, 37% said about their budget, and 15% said lower than budget. Another 18% said they didn’t make any budget at all.

Categories and e-commerce platforms: winners and losers

Apparel is the distantly leading category and it seems most of the intended buyers did place their orders. Food category is the surprising winner: it’s not only the second most popular category with a significant lead, but also the only major category with more actual buyers than those planned to do so. Other mainstream categories which appeared to be more popular than initially thought are home appliances, cosmetics and personal care. Pet products and pharmaceuticals and wellbeing products, two niche categories, have significantly more buyers than estimation. Footwear, mobile phone/digital gadgets and computers are lower than estimated.



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“Food category’s spectacular performance could be the result of impulsive purchasing,” said William Wei, Head of Client Servicing, Kantar Millward Brown Shanghai. “For apparel, footwear and digital gadgets categories, buyers might have done their homework one or two weeks ahead and put targets in shopping carts, so that they can place their orders right after the mid-night to avoid sold-out.

“But it is not very likely that people will do homework for food,” he said. “The more possible scenario was that during Internet users’ online shopping journey, they were lured by the attractive images of food products and instantly added them into shopping carts.”

There is little surprise in e-commerce platforms’ landscape. More than half people said they bought via Tmall, Alibaba’s B2C platform. All other platforms were lower than estimation. The rough description could be this: Tmall 55%, Taobao (Alibaba’s C2C platform) about 40%, JD.com (China’s largest direct sale e-commerce site in which Tencent owns a stake) 20%, Suning (partly owned by Alibaba) 10%, Yihaodian (recently bought by JD.com) and Amazon China both 6%, while none of the rest is higher than 5%.



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In terms of purchasing device, nearly 50% respondents said they bought via e-commerce platforms’ apps, followed by PC (37%). Mobile web browser and tablets were both mentioned by 12%. It might be too early for WeChat shopping because only 5.5% said they bought via WeChat. Another 2.62% people said they bought in off-line environment. It is a multiple option question.

When asked about their brand engagement, 30% said they continued to buy brands they’d been buying. A clear opportunity jumped out as 35% bought “brands I always liked but didn’t buy because it was too expensive in non-Singles Day time” – premium brands should start to think of Singles Day as an exceptionally good time in recruiting new consumers.  Kantar Worldpanel’s data has shown that 55% of e-commerce shoppers would buy from previous orders. So the job is half-done if you can get your brand onto customers’ historical orders.

Singles Day TV Gala Show

This is the second year for Alibaba to host its Singles Day TV Gala Show on the Singles Day eve (November 10). This year it partnered with Zhejiang Provincial Satellite TV, dropping Hunan Provincial Satellite TV. There are 8.78% respondents said they “watched and bought” during the show, nearly 20% said they “watched but didn’t buy”, while 20% said they were not aware of this show. The biggest group is the 51% who said “I was aware of the show but didn’t watch it”.

It is worth noticing that the penetration rate of e-commerce is higher than we thought: 30% said they were buying for their parents or other senior relatives while another 25% were buying for their children. More people were relying, or enjoying, the Singles Day in China than the number of shoppers.

Source: CTR, Kantar, Kantar Worldpanel, Kantar Millward Brown

Editor's notes

Note 1: CTR is the joint venture between Kantar Media and China International Television Corporation, a wholly owned unit under China Central TV Station;

Note 2: The purchasing behaviour survey was carried out via Internet between November 12 and 14 in which 3,862 real ID registered users submitted valid answers. The intentional survey was carried out via Internet between October 25 and 26 in which 3,248 real ID registered users submitted valid answers.

Note 3: Based on the answers to various questions, about 16 – 18% respondents didn’t buy on Singles Day.

Note 4: This is a multiple option answer because a panellist might have done research for one item but not done research for others. However, the sum of all chosen options is 113%, which means on average, one panellist had chosen 1.13 options.

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