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China has the world’s largest and fastest-growing e-commerce market, and its major e-commerce giants have created several shopping festivals throughout the year to drive sales. These shopping festivals are retail events, sometimes based on more traditional holidays, where platforms organize campaigns and brands offer discounts or promotions to encourage sales among consumers.

China’s two largest shopping festivals are Alibaba’s Double 11 or Single’s Day Shopping Festival and JD’s 6.18 Mid-Year Shopping Festival. Although the names of these two festivals are based on specific dates, November 11and June 18, in recent years, they have been extended into events lasting up to several weeks, with various promotions or live streams scheduled each day. Moreover, live streaming has become a significant component of both festivals, with everyone from KOLs and CEOs to civil servants hosting their live streams to promote various brands or industries.

IImage taken from Tmall’s official Weibo account (@天猫). The image promotes Double 11 in the days leading up to the event.

Double 11/Single’s Day Shopping Festival

Double 11, or Single’s Day, is a shopping festival that Alibaba, major E-commerce player in China, launched. It has also become a nationwide event promoted by Alibaba. Some of the largest discounts of the year are expected during this festival, and promotions start at the beginning of November, with pre-sales starting even earlier.

In 2020, the 11-day sales from Double 11 for reached 271.5 billion RMB, which was a growth of 32% compared to the previous year, and the 11-day sales for Tmall reached 498.2 billion RMB, which was a growth of 26% compared to the previous year. For many brands, Double 11 has become the single biggest growth driver of the year.

Image is taken from JD’s official Weibo account (@京东). The image is celebrating JD’s 17th annual 618 Festival.

6.18 Mid-Year Shopping Festival

The 618 shopping festival was initially started by, one of the largest e-commerce platforms in China. 618 was promoted as a marketing concept in 2009 and has since expanded into a month-long celebration that other E-commerce platforms, such as Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall, also heavily promote.

In 2020, the 618 shopping festival was especially significant as it was the first nationwide shopping event since the COVID-19 outbreak. Thus many looked towards the event for indications of how the Chinese consumption economy was recovering from the pandemic. The event lasted from June 1 to June 18. It was a massive success, with total transactions seeing a growth of 42% compared to the previous year (according to NetsUnion Clearing Cooperation, the Chinese online payment clearing house), at 16.91 trillion RMB.

Other Notable Shopping Festivals in China

    • Qixi Festival: Occurring on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month (August 14 in 2021), Qixi is often known as Chinese Valentine’s Day. It is a festival celebrating the traditional Chinese love story between Niulang and Zhinu.
    • International Women’s Day: This annual celebration on March 8 has developed into a shopping festival that many female-focused brands participate in. In 2020, Tmall had the “Own Yourself, Love Yourself” campaign, which focused on female empowerment.
    • 12.12 or Double 12 Shopping Festival: Alibaba launched the festival to appeal to shoppers who continued to want promotions after the extravaganza of Double 11.
    • Chinese New Year: Chinese New Year is an extremely important festival in Chinese culture. Since one of the customs of this festival is gifting, many brands develop specialized gift boxes or gift packaging for this festival.
    • 9.9 Wine Festival: Alibaba launched the 9.9 Wine Festival for the alcohol industry. Traditional Chinese alcohol brands, such as Chinese Baijiu and international wine brands, participate in this festival.

These festivals are only a selection of the most popular shopping events in China, which is not exhaustive. A range of other shopping festivals throughout the year are also celebrated by various industries and consumers as well, including but not limited to Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Children’s Day, 818 Shopping Festival, 520 or I Love You Day, Christmas, Dragon Boat Festival, Lantern Festival, etc.

How can brands choose which shopping festivals to participate in?

When choosing shopping festivals to participate in and offer promotions, brands first need to determine whether the shopping festival makes sense for their category and target audience. Although some festivals, such as 6.18 and Double 11, have widespread appeal, others are more limited in whom they are intended for.

After determining the shopping festivals that would best suit the brand, the primary decision is generally to participate in large-scale events such as 6.18 or Double 11, focus on the smaller and more niche events, or participate in both.

The benefit of joining in on the large shopping festivals is access to a massive audience, all of whom already have incredibly high purchase intentions. Many Chinese consumers tend to take advantage of the discounted pricing and stock up on products during these events, purchasing in bulk. However, competition between brands is also high, making it difficult for smaller brands to stand out in the crowd. This is especially true as more prominent brands will likely have larger budgets used on in-platform promotional tools or other forms of paid media, such as working with KOLs to endorse the brand. Another vital factor to consider is that brands and products need to be massively discounted during these more significant events to attract attention from consumers, which would inevitably lower the profit margins on the individual products sold. Thus, brands that are already pre-established in the China market generally have a higher chance of success during these more significant shopping events.

Regarding smaller shopping festivals, there is usually much less competition among brands, and the campaigns tend to be more customized to the specific target audience of the brand. On the other hand, the reach of these campaigns will be much smaller, and the consumers reached will also have a lower purchase intention than they would during the significant shopping festivals.

Building up awareness throughout the year is crucial, especially for smaller brands or brands that have just entered the China market. These brands can utilize the smaller shopping festivals to build up their digital and market presence before making preparations to join in on the promotions, campaigns, and discounts during the significant shopping festivals in China.

How Melchers can support foreign businesses entering e-business in China

China’s appetite for foreign brands and the spending power of Chinese shoppers offer an attractive market for foreign businesses. Moreover, the speed at which China’s e-business is evolving makes it a fertile testing ground for using e-business platforms to export to other markets. However, adapting to local needs and habits is vital.

Creating brand awareness is essential to success. Choosing suitable social media, search engine and sales platforms are only some of the aspects which need to be considered. Especially for small and medium-sized enterprises, the costs and challenges of doing business in China can easily be overwhelming. Choosing the right partner to be successful online will be paramount.

To learn more, please contact us at [email protected].

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