The world’s biggest online shopping holiday is one that many Americans have never heard of.
It’s called Singles Day, and it’s a Chinese shopping holiday that’s grown from a day of flash sales to a multiday online shopping bonanza in November.
Does another seasonal shopping event come to mind? Both Singles Day and Black Friday are misnomers at this point, in that their deals often span weeks.
And while there’s no perfect comparison between the two shopping holidays, consider these numbers:
- Last year, shoppers spent roughly $132.6 billion between the two largest Singles Day retailers, Alibaba and JD.com. That combined figure is according to numbers from Alibaba and JD.com, and it reflects about the first two weeks of November 2021.
- On Black Friday last year, shoppers spent $8.9 billion, according to an Adobe report. Shoppers also spent $10.7 billion on Cyber Monday in 2021.
- Throughout the holiday shopping season in 2021 (from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31), shoppers spent $204.5 billion, according to Adobe.
As more Western brands get wise about Singles Day, U.S. shoppers can expect even more hefty deals during the end-of-year retail rush.
What is Singles Day?
Singles Day doesn’t have its roots in retail. In the 1990s, a group of Chinese college students wanted a cheeky way to commemorate being single, so they dubbed Nov. 11 as Singles Day. (And if you look at the numbers, it’s 11/11, or 1-1-1-1.) On that day, people treated themselves to an indulgent splurge or two.
Of course, retailers eventually spotted an opportunity. In 2009, the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba adopted Singles Day as a 24-hour online shopping spree. The company offered exclusive deals on its website and marketplaces, where third-party businesses use Alibaba’s platform to sell directly to consumers.
Now, Singles Day isn’t just a shopping holiday anymore: In 2017, Alibaba transformed the event from a 24-hour period into an 11-day affair, dubbed the Alibaba Global Shopping Festival. In China, it’s become a part of popular culture, as Alibaba kicked off its 10th Singles Day in 2019 with a massive, glitzy gala in Shanghai headlined by Taylor Swift.
In 2009, only 27 brands participated in the holiday, according to research from the International Institute for Management Development. In 2021, a whopping 290,000 brands offered Singles Day deals, according to Alizila, the corporate news arm of Alibaba Group.
How big is Singles Day?
The numbers behind Singles Day are staggering. Alizila estimates that at least 900 million people — just over 11% of the world’s population — shopped Singles Day deals throughout the two-week event in 2021. Meanwhile, nearly 180 million people shopped around Thanksgiving weekend, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday, according to the National Retail Federation.
Singles Day is dominated by two major players: Alibaba and JD.com, another Chinese e-commerce company.
Alibaba is one of the world’s largest online shopping companies. Its size is hard to overstate: Alibaba boasts 925 million mobile monthly active users, according to its holding company, Alibaba Group. For comparison, Amazon has just over 300 million active customer accounts, according to Amazon.
Alibaba’s online shopping business is spread across several distinct marketplaces, where third-party brands can offer exclusive deals to Alibaba customers. Its main marketplace, Tmall.com, hosts roughly 25,000 brands from nearly 100 countries around the globe, according to Tmall Global. The company recently launched a “luxury pavilion” for designer brands, and it’s now carrying products from luxury giants like Hermès International and Chanel.
How to shop on Singles Day
Despite Singles Day’s mammoth size, few U.S. retailers have historically participated in the event. That’s changed in recent years, though, and Western brands like Nike and Sephora have started rolling out Singles Day products and discount codes.
As more Western brands begin offering Singles Day discounts, U.S. shoppers should keep an eye out for online sales cropping up before Black Friday, said Ryan Turner — founder of Ecommerce Intelligence, an online shopping analytics firm — in an email.
“Searching for Singles Day deals in the U.S. is definitely worth it, and shoppers might be surprised at the number of brands who are running 11/11 promotions this year,” Turner said.
Look out for coupon websites, too. Andrea Woroch, a consumer finance and budgeting expert based in Bakersfield, California, recommends using CouponFollow.com for Singles Day deals. The coupon aggregator will offer double cash-back deals on Singles Day for participating retailers, Woroch said in an email.
Also, check to see which retailers offered Singles Day deals last year. In 2021, these brands were among those that rolled out Singles Day deals throughout November:
If your favorite retailer isn’t offering Singles Day discounts, there’s always Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), Small Business Saturday (the Saturday after Thanksgiving) and Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving) to satisfy your shopping needs.