Why China’s Popular Singles’ Day Hasn’t Taken Off in the US

Veteran’s Day saw retailers and consumers smash all sorts of online shopping records. Adobe Analytics data shows that US online retail sales were higher than ever on Nov. 11, reaching $2.7 billion, a 38% increase YoY when compared to the Monday of Veteran’s Day weekend 2018.

Despite this record-setting weekend, US sales were dwarfed by a single day of online shopping in China. Indeed, Singles’ Day, the popular Chinese retail holiday, saw more online sales than Adobe predicts the US will see in the entire five-day stretch between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. In just one hour, Singles’ Day sales hit $12 billion, surpassing our prediction for total online sales for Cyber Monday ($9.4 billion) and Black Friday ($7.5 billion) this year.

So what is happening in China that has retailers and consumers excited, and why isn’t it happening in the US?

For one thing: time. The retail cycle in the US is different than in China. In the US retailers build up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday with a cascade of promotions and deals for products available for purchase immediately. In China, many of the largest companies that participate in the Singles’ Day event only push the actual deals on Singles’ Day (Nov. 11). They spend the weeks and days leading up to the event building anticipation through live-stream promotions of new products and services, inviting consumers to watch and to book pre-orders that are available only at specific times. Pre-orders began as early as Oct. 21 this year. In many ways, it is as if all the sales for the Thanksgiving period were pre-booked weeks in advance but were reported as sales on Black Friday. That would be a massive haul.

Chinese consumers have been deeply engaged by this system and retailers have invested in making the whole pre-Singles’ Day period incredibly exciting. Stiff competition among the major retailers means that opportunities for deals on everything from toothbrushes to cars to hotel rooms abound.

It’s difficult to imagine a world in which US shoppers would be willing to transition to pre-ordering goods for delivery weeks away when we’ve all become so used to one- and two-day delivery. And the cultural terrain is different in the US: the rhythms of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are built into the retail calendar and consumers’ expectations of it. Inserting a synthetic holiday around early-to-mid November (like Singles’ Day) in the US would conflict with Veteran’s Day, as well as impact the way we celebrate Halloween. Enough people complain about Christmas decorations the day after Halloween, so imagine a world where Holiday deals start before kids have gone trick-or-treating. To be fair, Amazon was able to create a shopping holiday (think: Prime Day in July) in the US out of whole cloth, but it did so during a time of year when there aren’t many other retail landmarks.

This is not to say that US retailers have nothing to learn from Singles’ Day. Far from it. For one thing, Chinese retailers and consumers communicate and transact through their phones at a rate completely unheard of in the US. It will not be until Christmas Day of this year that Adobe predicts we will see as many retail transactions happening on phones as on desktops in the US. On Singles’ Day in China, 90% of sales happen via a smartphone. Singles’ Day payment systems, phone games and mobile live streams are all elements that could effectively be ported to the US and elsewhere. Indeed, most of the rest of the world where Internet access is primarily via phone is likely to see the Singles’ Day model as more appealing than having to find a computer to easily complete a transaction.

Don’t expect Singles’ Day to supplant Veteran’s Day here in the US. But as long as people shop online, do expect retail holidays all over the world to become ever more entertaining, exciting and above all things: more mobile.

Visit here for real-time updates on online spending for this holiday shopping season.