From severed hands to Singles’ Day: stories behind China’s shopping carnival

Every November 11 is like a national festival for Alibaba’s Taobao, its rivals, and for the savvy Chinese online shoppers who burn holes in their wallets. Here’s what you don’t know about the Singles’ Day shopping festival.

Double 11 Vs. Singles’ Day

November 11 was first created as “Singles Day” in the 1990s by some male university male students, both celebrating and mocking themselves at the same time, according to Chinese news website

Alibaba somehow saw an opportunity and rebranded the day as a shopping festival targeting young Chinese netizens. “You are so lonely. Why don’t you buy something nice to ease your empty soul,” the indication behind the festival goes.

In 2009, Alibaba started sales promotions on that November 11 by offering discounts, and saw its sales volume at only RMB 50 million (USD seven million). Still, the trend of Double 11 took off and the festival later became the most overwhelming and competitive among Chinese online shops.

The origins of “severed-hand” shoppers

Chinese consumers have coined the slang term “Duoshou dang”, or ”severed hand party”, to describe the crazy online shopper during the shopping festival. The term describes people who buy so much stuff online that the only way to stop them would be to cut their hands off.

A servered hand.

To continue to stimulate consumers, Alibaba’s strategy has evolved from offering heavy discounts to bringing well-recognized international brands onto its platform.

Tmall, Alibaba’s online retail platform, this year partnered with 49 international consumer product makers and launched posters in China’s metropolises, featuring well-known brands like Beats, Nike, and Lamy.

Industry players in China, among China’s expanding middle class and need for high quality consumer products, created a word “consumption upgrade” to describe the current shift from cheap goods to more expensive but more durable products.

Shopping as entertainment

Last year’s Singles’ Day shopping festival saw a jaw-dropping sales revenue, bringing in RMB 91.2 billion (USD 14 billion) over 24 hours on Alibaba’s online shopping platform.

Alibaba is scheduled to hold an offline gala, held from 8 p.m. to 12 p.m. on November 10. International stars, including Katy Perry and One Republic, are among the performers at the gala. The company will providing live streaming for the gala, and millions are likely to watch.

After the gala, the yearly online shopping frenzy will start.

Alibaba’s competitors

In the e-commerce field, Alibaba competes internationally with Amazon, although Alibaba’s executive vice chairman, Joseph Tsai, last week said the two companies are “trying to steer clear of each other’s swimming lanes”.

November 11 for Alibaba is roughly analogous to Prime Day for Amazon. The American giant introduced Prime Day in 2014 to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

Domestically, some e-commerce platforms hope to grab consumers’ attention by creative marketing strategies. Mogu, an information and products platform for female shoppers, published a video on October 15 to market itself, and the video has been watched 32.36 million times.

For consumers on Alibaba’s platforms, they only need to add items to the carts, lay back to enjoy the gala, and go the online checkouts on November 11.

(All photos in the article from Baidu Images)

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