Singles Day 2017, the difficulty of finding an orientation in the shadow of the (usual) records

17 Nov 2017

Singles Day 2017 seems to have recorded staggering numbers, as expected.  However, in order to understand its meaning and give it the right dimensions, it is crucial to consider the less evident, and often more important, aspects of the global shopping day. Of course, the lack of information also has an affect on this, and therefore it is necessary to "drive without a navigator" in order to understand it.

In 2016, the final (unitary) result was 17.8 billion. Official communications, including those of the Xinhua government agency, are currently talking about commercial transactions worth 25.4 billion dollars on the Alibaba portal alone. In the first hour of activity, 60 of the most important international brands (including Apple, Estée Lauder, Gap, L'Oreal, Nike, Samsung, Uniqlo and Zara) supposedly generated more than 15 million dollars each. According to Bloomberg , buyers from 192 countries throughout the world took part in Singles Day 2017, at a rate of 256,000 transactions per second. JD.com, the other online Chinese retail power, declared a 19 billion dollar result in the week including the event. It is worth remembering, in comparison, in 2016, Black Friday and Cyber ​​Monday generated US Retail sales worth 7 billion dollars (and will be replicated from 17 to 20 November, with retailers hoping for another weekend filled with sales in supermarkets and on American online sites).

Singles Day 2017

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang's personal congratulations to Jack Ma for the performance are consistent with the new model of economic expansion defined by the Chinese government: from the production and export of products, to the development of domestic consumption of the new and growing middle class.

It is legitimate to have some doubts about the data, however, given that communications citing lower consumption growth would be very unwelcome by the Beijing authorities. First, the 'value of sales' is not a reliable measure. The figures were presented right away and net of refunds over the following days, which could account for up to 30% of the value according to some analysts (an American scholar asked "Have you ever heard of a shipping company that reports the value of the goods it sends?").

The repercussions for the logistics infrastructure in terms of time and costs are very substantial: packages normally delivered within two days can take much longer. The profitability of the event for the participating brands and storekeepers is another unknown value. There are no (obviously) precise statistics, but it is probable that the majority of the shops are operating in the red or, at most, break even.

Consumers are now accustomed to holding back on significant purchases to wait for the discounts on Singles Day, and this also applies to large quantities of non-perishable products that will obviously not be purchased later. In this sense, it is not easy to define the demarcation between the real increase in consumption and a simple change to the purchasing period. The old universal rule of "sales" also applies, with the gradual increase in prices in the previous period, which makes the actual value of the promotions low or nil.

The stress placed on records creates ever-greater expectations that are increasingly difficult to manage over time, and it will not be easy to expose them continuously. Certainly, the data presented to the media will not be enough for Wall Street, where Alibaba is listed. It will therefore require time, caution and competence to carry out a proper evaluation of Singles Day 2017, once the fireworks have all fizzled out