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7 findings from Singles Day in 2018

Martin Guo

Editor-in-Chief, Kantar China Insights

Shoppers 28.11.2018 / 18:23

Jack Ma at 2018 Singles Day

What have Chinese consumers bought during the world’s largest e-commerce shopping event? Which categories are big winners? How much have they spent? Do people regret spending too much?

China’s Singles Day has entered its 10th year: Many years ago, Chinese young people jokingly named November 11 as “Singles Day” because all digits for this day are the lonesome “1s”. Alibaba Group saw a commercial opportunity and in 2009 launched an online sales festival to “celebrate” the Singles Day.

This year, many analysts were sceptical about the sales performance for Singles Day, because many people were complaining there were too many e-commerce festivals now in China and the rules for discounts on Singles Day, if they did exist, were too complicated to follow.

However, the sales performance held up: on Alibaba’s two e-commerce platforms (B2C Tmall and C2C Taobao), Chinese consumers bought goods worth of 213.5 billion yuan in 24 hours, 27% higher than a year ago. Alibaba’s biggest competitor JD.com also sold nearly 160 billion yuan worth of goods from November 1 till 11, an annual increase of 25.7%.

Even though e-commerce retailers continued to break records, the growth rates have inevitably declined. What can we learn from this year’s Singles Day?

Kantar has commissioned Lightspeed to launch an online Post Singles Day survey on November 12 while Chinese consumers’ memories were still fresh. Nearly 1,000 panellists from tier-1 to -3 cities answered our survey. The design of the questionnaire and quota have been aligned with our Pre Singles Day survey, which enabled us to compare their intention and actual purchasing behaviour.

Here are seven findings we’ve learned from the results:

1. Among all respondents, 8% didn’t buy anything on Singles Day. The reasons are in line with our Pre Singles Day survey: most mentioned reason is “I don’t have anything particular I want to buy” (54%). Only 26% mentioned “there is no real discount on Singles Day”, while 22% mentioned “too complicated discount terms and policy”.

2. Nearly 70% of respondents were buying “more than last year” (35%) or “same as last year” (33%). There were also 19% buying less than last year.

Compared with our Pre Singles Day survey, the actual spending was lower than planned. The mean budget in the survey before Singles Day was 3,048 yuan, but the actual mean spending was only 2,657 yuan – 13% lower than planned. If we look into gender differences, male consumers spent 18% less than their plans, while female spent only 8% less than plan. On average, each male consumer spent 320 yuan less than females.

3. Tmall, Taobao and JD.com have become formidable distant leaders in the e-commerce landscape. Pinduoduo, the social shopping app which gained popularity through WeChat groups, was a fast-rising star.

During the 24 hours of Singles Day, 70% respondents bought through Tmall, followed by Taobao (58%) and JD.com (52%). All their numbers were lower than in the Pre Singles Day survey, but still they were leading other e-commerce retail platforms by a huge advantage as no other platform was mentioned by more than 9% respondents.

In the Pre Singles Day survey, five e-commerce platforms were mentioned by between 10% to 20% respondents. But in the Post Singles Day survey, only Suning (9%), VIP.com (8%) and Pinduoduo (8%) were close to 10%. Given Pinduoduo’s short history, it has already achieved a lot of progress now that it was among the second tier e-commerce brands.

On average, each respondent bought from 2.52 e-commerce platforms, but they mentioned 3.62 platforms in the Pre Singles Day survey. So during Singles Day, an e-commerce platform had to edge onto a consumer’s top 3 shopping destination list, otherwise it would be in a very weak position.

4. Among physical goods categories, apparel was still the most popular one: 65% respondents said they’d bought apparel, only 5 percentage points lower than in Pre Singles Day survey.

It was another solid Singles Day for food category as 54% bought it. It was the second most bought category and the only category whose actual shopping proportion was higher than planned (3 percentage points higher).

Compared with Pre Singles Day survey, many categories had fewer shoppers than expected – big losers being shoes (planned 52% vs actual 43%), luggage and bags (22% vs 15%) and toys (21% vs 12%).

5. Hotel and video websites were big winners of Singles Day 2018. More virtual goods have joined the Singles Day to earn a bigger share of people’s spending. And it worked out nicely: 21% respondents bought virtual goods (such as game account credit, software subscription fee, mobile phone bill credit, etc); 20% respondents bought services (such as air tickets, hotel nights, gym membership fees, etc).

Among those who bought virtual goods, video website’s membership was the best seller: 70% people bought it, which was 4 percentage points higher than Pre Singles Day survey. Among those who bought services, half of them bought hotel room while 30% bought air tickets.

6. New Retail, which was first promoted by Alibaba Group founder and Chairman Jack Ma in 2016, meant the convergence of online, offline and logistics to better serve consumers in the future. But during this Singles Day, only 29% respondents joined offline sales activities, 5 percentage points lower than planned.

7. Generally speaking, after 10 years of Singles Day sales, Chinese consumers have become more sophisticated and learned how to control their spending wisely. When asked did they feel they’d spent too much on Singles Day, 60% said: “I bought just right amount!” Another 15% said “I don’t really care whether it’s too much or too little”. Only 12% regretted. (Female were more likely to regret as it was female 15% vs 9% male.)

Source: Lightspeed

Editor's notes

*In the photo, Jack Ma (right), Chairman of Alibaba Group, joins logistics work in Hangzhou on November 10 with a female colleague to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Singles Day; 

* The survey was undertaken by Lightspeed through its online survey panel. Post Singles Day survey collected 983 valid answers from its real-ID registered panellists from November 12 till 14 while Pre Singles Day survey collected 983 valid answers from its panellists from November 2 till 6. The panellists were non-repetitive. They came from 87 cities in 31 Chinese mainland provinces. The male vs female ratio is 1:1;

* To reach the author, or to know more information, data and analysis of China's e-commerce industry and FMCG market, please contact us ;

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