Singles' Day: From anti-Valentine's Day to the most important e-commerce event of the year

Fatih-Kağan Taşkoparan

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Originally launched as a kind of counter-movement to Valentine's Day, November 11 has become a global shopping phenomenon. With sales figures in the billions (71.4 billion dollars), the day has long since overtaken events such as "Black Friday" or "Cyber Monday". But what is behind the self-invented "holiday"? Find out where it comes from and how it became the biggest shopping event in the world here.

A tribute to being single

Every year on November 11, millions of people in China and other parts of the world celebrate Singles Day. Its origins can be traced back to the 1990s: The day was first celebrated at the University of Nanjing, China. It was created as a counterpart to Valentine's Day to give young Chinese singles the opportunity to go to events all over the country, get to know each other and do something good for themselves. The date is derived from the symbolism of the number 1 for single. So November 11 was and is a tribute to single people, to give them a special day to celebrate their freedom and independence.

What began as a student initiative quickly developed into a nationwide phenomenon in China. Over the years, Singles' Day has been celebrated by more and more people. The decisive turning point came in 2009, when the Chinese online retailer Alibaba, founded by Jack Ma, recognized Singles' Day as a marketing strategy and transformed it into a gigantic e-commerce event. This move was so successful that other online retailers and brands in China quickly followed suit.

The development of Singles' Day into an international phenomenon was inevitable. Alibaba and other e-commerce giants used their global presence to establish Singles' Day outside of China. Today, November 11 is celebrated in many countries around the world, including the US, UK, Canada, Australia and many European nations.

Discount frenzy leads to sales record

For online retailers, "Single People's Day" is an incredibly lucrative business. Alibaba has regularly set records in recent years: In the year 2019 record sales of more than 38 billion US dollars on Singles' Day. In 2021, total sales on this day amounted to USD 74.1 billion, surpassing all previous records and making Singles' Day the highest-selling e-commerce event in the world.

Originating in America, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are actually considered the two biggest e-commerce shopping events of the year. This may be true for the Western world, but on a global level, Chinese Singles' Day eclipses the American sales events: Alibaba's China Singles' Day Seven times more turnover in 2020 achieved than Amazon on Prime Day.

In Europe, Singles' Day is nowhere near as popular as it is in the Asian world, but consumers are well aware of the event: according to Statista rose awareness in Europe from 14.1% in 2019 and to 16.6% in the following year.