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11 things you need to know about 11.11 Singles' Day shopping festival

Embrace the craziest celebration of consumerism

WSJ
On the surface , Singles’ Day (11.11) may sound like a bit of a sad affair, conjuring images of wallowing in loneliness and misery or lying in bed all day with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. But Singles’ Day is actually Asia’s largest shopping bonanza and the world’s largest online shopping event. According to Forbes, last year the holiday racked up 25.3 billion USD (around 168.2 billion RMB). So, yeah, it’s a bit of a big deal.

If you’re thinking about joining in on the craze, here’s 11 things you should know about 11.11.

1. Singles’ Day originated in a Nanjing University dorm

While the actual origin of Singles' Day is debatable, most people have settled upon the story of how it emerged from the dormitories of Nanjing University in the mid-90s. Four single university male students gathered to discuss how to break the shackles of the monotony of singlehood (remember those were pre-Tinder/Facebook days). One dude had the epiphany of deciding that November 11 would be representative of Singles' Day due to the number of ones in the date – 11-11 recalls the ‘bare sticks’ Chinese idiom, used to refer to people (mostly men) who stay single most of their lives.

Singles' Day made its rounds on social media, garnering more and more interest from singletons across China as a day to spend with friends, until in 2009, Alibaba co-opted the holiday to market a massive sales campaign. Now China has this absurdly successful commercial holiday born from post-modern laughter in the face of classic crushing loneliness.

2. Look out for fake deals and trick sales


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According to the ‘Double 11 and Black Friday Consumer Experience and Complaints Report 2017’ published by China E-Commerce Research Center, domestic retail E-commerse accounted for 57.19 percent of the total complaints, followed by cross-border import e-commerce (17.01 percent). Complaints filed with the authorities on Singles’ Day were related to false advertising, hidden discount restrictions and other sales schemes. As always, it’s important to make sure that you buy from trustworthy sellers. So shop carefully.

3. Kuaidi's will be crazy (crazier)

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On the back of China’s e-commerce boom, the country's courier sector has grown into the world's largest in terms of delivery volume for years. Still, courier services strain under the volume, and the Singles’ Day sales period doesn’t help. According to the numbers from China’s State Post Bureau, Chinese postal and courier companies handled a total of 331 million packages on Singles’ Day. For this year, China's State Post Bureau predicts that the industry will handle more than 1.87 billion packages for Singles’ Day shopping from November 11-16. Be ready for delays on your stuff.

4. Read the fine print and do your own maths

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The rules and online promotions for Singles’ Day get more complicated every year. Ideas like pre-launch, pre-order, money-off and price protection policies need some careful reading to make sure you know what you’re buying into. Also, combining and separating orders might disqualify you from discounts. Best to keep that old TI-84 graphing calculator by your side as you measure up your savings.

5. Don't turn this festival into ‘hands-chopping’ festival

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Chinese netizens have taken to a gruesome nickname for Singles’ Day. ‘Hands-Chopping Festival’ (剁手節), as in ‘If I buy one more thing, I will chop my hands off.’ Everyone buys at least one more thing, no one actually chops off their hands, but many people do fall into the trap of spending more than they should. Selling your dismembered hands is not a good way to get out of debt, unless you’re in debt with the right people.

6. Record-breaking spending

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Every Singles’ Day, in the press centre at Alibaba’s headquarters, a huge screen live-tracks the number of transactions and RMB spent. Last year, 19.1 billion RMB in transactions were made just five minutes and 57 seconds after the launch of sales. By 1.09pm, sales volume surpassed 120.7 billion RMB, the sales volume for the entire day in 2016. Let's see if Singles’ Day will continue to break its own records.

7. Star-studded Alibaba gala

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For Singles’ Day 2017, Alibaba ran a star-studded, nationally televised gala on the eve of November 11, directed by one of the producers behind the 2016 Academy Awards. It featured celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, Pharrell Williams and Jessie J. This year, Alibaba Singles’ Day gala will be broadcast on two national television channels (Dongfang and Zhejiang TV) and available video streaming on Youku. Australian supermodel Miranda Kerr appears on the promoting poster, together with mostly Chinese celebrities.

8. Spam messages and fraud go up around Singles’ Day

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According to Shanghai Consumer Right Protection Commission, complaints received during the 2017 Singles’ Day sales period made up 13 percent of the total consumer complaints for the year. They were mostly about false promoting information, unfulfilled purchase promises, and after-sales service failures.

9. Singles' Day is going global

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Last year, Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten, opened a Chinese cross-border e-commerce site, specialising in foreign goods, to get a piece of that Single’s Day sales volume. Some Thai businesses also set up their flagship stores on Chinese e-commerce platforms. In Russia, the popularity of Chinese online retailers has been growing for the past few years. In 2013, Russia added China’s Singles’ Day its own sales calendar. In 2016, the number of Russian orders made on Chinese sales platforms was 31 times larger than in 2015. So who knows what the future holds...

10. Singles’ Day is going green

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via Suning

The tremendous amount of purchases on Singles’ Day means a lot of packages, a lot of cardboard, and a lot of waste after people unpacking all of their parcels. In 2017, Chinese courier companies used a total of 6.8 billion plastic bags, 3.4 billion plastic sleeves, 8.6 billion cardboard boxes, and more than 3 billion rolls of adhesive tape. The main component of packaging materials, polyvinyl chloride, can take hundreds of years to biodegrade.

Last year, Suning introduced a recyclable delivery box. The ‘share box’ is light, foldable and portable. When you sign for your package and collect its contents, the courier will reuse the yellow box for the next delivery.

11. Be prepared for 12.12

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It’s much smaller in scale compared to Singles’ Day. Double 12 is for those small online vendors that can’t join the 11.11 party because they sell low-demand niche products and lack the manpower to handle big sales volumes. Also, for Double 12 Taobao requires sellers to sell their items half-off if they want to be a part of the promotion. Over 2 million sellers have registered to participate in last year’s Double 12.

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