Explosive sales on Nov 11 have online retailers hoping that Dec 12 can bring customers back for more, though expectations are modest.
Don't be distressed if you had missed the world's largest online shopping spree on Nov 11, when Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group alone reported sales of 19.1 billion yuan ($3.06 billion) on the unofficial "Singles' Day". Chinese e-retailers are keen to have another shopping festival soon - after the spending frenzy that produced about three times the e-commerce sales from the recent Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), or twice the revenue from Cyber Monday (the first Monday after Thanksgiving) in the US market. The next target in China is Dec 12. Unlike Nov 11, which has been mocked as the "11-11" holiday by and for the country's growing single population, "12-12" carries little implication except those auspicious numerals.
But Dec 12 is when most of the coupons issued by e-retailers on Nov 11 will become outdated. That's reason enough for e-retailers to develop it into another shopping spree, even though their expectations will be more modest.
"Singles' Day is mainly for big retailers on Tmall.com, while Dec 12 is for small but unique stores on Taobao.com," says Yan Qiao, a public-relations officer from Tmall.com. Alibaba Group is running both Tmall.com and Taobao.com.
"It focuses not on sales, but on uniqueness to draw in netizens to have fun."
Other leading e-commerce providers, including Dangdang.com and 360buy.com, hope to ride on a new tide of shopping on Dec 12. The country's growing online shopping population was nearly 200 million by the end of 2011 and Alibaba reported visits by 213 million accounts at Tmall.com and Taobao.com on Nov 11.
In other words, says Ye Xiaozhou, a public relations officer from Dangdang.com, in today's era of e-commerce, "e-retailers create shopping days".
Ye says that while traditional festivals like the Golden Weeks around the National Day holiday and the Spring Festival already stimulate shopping, "the trend is to create more shopping days, Singles' Day being the best example".
"Many e-commerce sites, including Dang-dang.com, have been promoting their own sales days, such as the anniversary of the e-commerce provider," Ye says.
Word spreads fast online, thanks to the popularity of China's social-networking services such as Sina Weibo or WeChat, the most popular mobile-based SNS developed by China's tech giant Tencent.
Wang Yulei, assistant CEO of Tmall and the mastermind behind the shopping spree on Nov 11, told Sanlian Life Weekly how a friend became involved in the shopping spree on Singles' Day, although he showed little interest at first.
"He was informed by a few online stores' sales promotions on Nov 10, which he ignored," Wang says. His friend got more notices the next morning, some from friends.
"By 4 pm, he was informed that the sales promotion would end in a few hours. He couldn't sit still any more," Wang says.
Yan agrees, noting that the most successful part about marketing Singles' Day is that retailers, logistics providers, and online payment services all participate in the sales festival. By turning an ordinary day into a shopping festival, shopping itself has become tradition and a way to celebrate.
"Shopping for the Singles' Day in China is like eating turkey for Americans during Thanksgiving," says Yao Lan, a magazine editor and mother of a daughter in Shanghai.
"You can't spend the day without noticing or participating in it because everyone in the office or online is talking about it."
Chen Yuxin, a visiting professor from China Europe International Business School, says China's growing web-consciousness, especially of the young, offers great market potential.
For example, Chen says, the target customers on Singles' Day are youngsters, mostly post-80s and post-90s, who use the festival to relieve stress and pressure. For them, online shopping doesn't just save money, it's fun.
However, few expect Dec 12 to be a repeat of the wildly successful Singles' Day.
Nov 11 is "in the right time period when people are preparing their winter clothes and merchants are eager to have clearance sales. Besides, the date is easy to remember", Tmall's Yan says.
Chen agrees that Dec 12 may not be a long-lasting phenomenon. "A new festival has to attach to a new cultural and social trend for it to be sustainable," he says. "For example, Nov 11 works as it is associated with the growing trend of late marriage.
"Singles' Day is a bit like the combination of Cyber Monday and Halloween, because the former is for shopping only, while the latter is a festival for young people to express emotion and celebrate," Chen says.
He believes other Chinese festivals also have potential, such as the Chinese Valentine's Day Qixi, and Chongyang Festival. But so far, Singles' Day remains Alibaba's most important shopping day in the coming year.