Singles Day did not become China’s largest online shopping fest over night. In November 2009, it started as a sales-promotion effort of Alibaba, giving the ‘single-dogs’ their own ‘anti-Valentine’s’ celebration. Eight years later, Taobao and Tmall’s Singles Day has beaten the ‘Black Friday’ in sales, reaching a record high of 120.7 billion RMB last year. Although that was still a 32% rise compared with 2015, the growth was significantly lower than the increase a year before. Why is the shopping fest loosing its appeal?
Forced to participate—sellers’ perspective
For the online sellers, Singles Day is like a bloody battle, they might loose, but can’t refuse to take part in. As appealing as massive discounts seem to the customers, the ‘price war’ during the fest takes its toll on small and medium sellers. To have a chance at coming out of ‘Singles Day’ with something more than just losses, many sellers have to start stocking up 20 days in advance, and invest heavily in promotion, Taobao search optimization, as well as actively participate in various campaigns on the platform to conquer a ‘prime spot’ for their products. In addition, there’s a homepage redesign, ‘hongbao’, coupons and giveaways, 24/7 customer service, night shifts of warehouse workers and other factors to consider. In the end, there’s no guarantee, though, that all these efforts will pay off.
Can’t resist buying- customers’ perspective
You can hear some women saying that shopping is a therapy, and a limited edition fancy bag is as effective in combating a cold, down mood or a fever, as any medicine. Urban Chinese areas, where consumerism thrives, have nurtured a ‘Buy Buy Buy’ generation, for whom uncontrolled consumption is a stress-relief method.
On the other hand, because of ‘Singles Day’ discounts craze, customers often end up spending more than intended, which doesn’t help to release anxiety, but only adds more. Plus, the whole hunt for the best price requires a lot of work: search different sellers, check their original prices, since raising up the price and making a ‘discount’ to the original price is a common practice. Then you have to set the alarm at midnight to catch the ‘hot sale’, otherwise some of the popular goods might be sold out while you enjoy your good night’s sleep. In the end, not buying the desired product, can also mess up with your head, making you buy ‘the second good’ thing instead, which most likely, is not what you really need.
Environmental footprint—delivery companies
It’s estimated that this year’s Singles Day will generate one billion deliveries. That also means tons of plastic bags, boxes, scotch tape and other single-use packaging materials. China lags behind in recycling these delivery expendables: according to China post, their recycling rate is less than 20%, compared to 45% in developed countries. This opens up the environmental dimension in the question of shopping festivals like Singles Day. More than 20 billion parcels delivered in China each year become a disgraceful waste problem. Although there are local initiatives like recently announced project of Cainiao Network, Alibaba’s delivery arm, and Xiamen government, there is no nationwide policy or solution yet.
This year, Alibaba expects to reach 150 billion yuan sales during ‘Singles Day’. Indeed, Jack Ma has built an empire that has changed and will continue changing our lifestyles and shopping habits. But it’s time to consider stopping for a moment, enjoying the opportunities and benefits online shopping brings us, and instead of going with the shopping craze, discover a conscious consumer within us.