Kiwi retailers cash in on Singles’ Day

  • News
  • November 21, 2017
  • Sarah Dunn
Kiwi retailers cash in on Singles’ Day

The Chinese holiday Singles’ Day, popularised by Alibaba as the ’11.11 Global Shopping Festival’, is now the biggest sale event in the world. Alibaba reports that US$25.3 billion of gross merchandise volume was settled during the 24 hours of Singles’ Day this year. Not all of that went to Chinese retailers, however – a handful of Kiwis made the most of the opportunity.

Singles’ Day falls on November 11, and is similar in nature to the American shopping holiday Black Friday. Alibaba Group chief executive Daniel Zhang says the Alibaba brand Tmall first promoted the event as encouraging lonely single shoppers to console themselves with a gift, but as Singles’ Day grew in scale, it became more universal.

In a sign of New Zealand’s deepening engagement with Alibaba and e-commerce, the first global order on Alibaba’s platforms during this year’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival was placed by a buyer located in New Zealand. It was a purchase of a soy milk maker from Chinese brand Joyoung.

Maggie Zhou, Alibaba Group’s Australia New Zealand managing director, says the group launched an office to service our market earlier in 2017. Its goals included growing the “outstanding performance” of Kiwi brands in previous Singles’ Day events.

She cited plant-based cleaning product and skincare company Ecostore and skincare company Antipodes as stand-out performers.

“We are thrilled that New Zealand brands have continued to see success on the world stage, adding further proof of the growing appetite for high-quality New Zealand goods among Chinese consumers,” Zhou says.

Pablo Kraus, managing director of Ecostore, says sale days like Alibaba’s Singles’ Day promotion represent an opportunity for Ecostore to expand its consumer base significantly.

“Chinese consumers are very sophisticated and their demand for an eco-friendly lifestyle continue to grow, so ecostore is honored to be a brand that consumers choose for its reliability, authenticity and being safe for all the family”.

Elizabeth Barbalich, CEO and founder of Antipodes agreed, saying the Chinese market was key for her brand.

Several Kiwi brands also took the opportunity to run Singles’ Day sales independent of Alibaba which targeted the Chinese population in New Zealand. Wine merchant Glengarry launched a one-day flash sale, and New Zealand-based AliExpress-affiliated curator saw a sharp increase in traffic.

Thieve founder Tim Scullin says Singles’ Day was complicated by the recent launch of Thieve version 2.0. The site was completely redesigned, and includes more powerful filtering and search tools. It’s also now faster than the previous edition. However, handling vastly increased traffic on a new platform wasn’t an easy ride – he answered some Q&As for us on the subject.

We hear Thieve got a slice of Singles’ Day traffic off the back of Alibaba’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival. Can you tell us what the increase looked like?

It was a really exciting day, especially considering we had launched Thieve 2.0 a few days before which had been featured on, a big US site for discovering exciting startups.

So on the day our traffic was up 10x and sales were up 25x. At one stage we were selling a product a second through the affiliate links which was pretty exciting! We had to spin up a few extra servers to handle all the traffic, which is always a good problem to have.

However we were just a small slice of the pie, Alibaba sold U$1 billion in just over two minutes!

Which countries was the traffic predominantly coming from? Did New Zealand shoppers feature prominently or not so much?

We had visitors from over 150 countries during the day, with the majority of our traffic coming from US, UK and Canada. New Zealand was sixth on the list for the day so still punching above our weight! Interestingly though we had a surge of traffic from Russia, where AliExpress is the number one ecommerce site. 

Did you change your offering at all to appeal to Singles’ Day shoppers? If so, how, and did it work?

Yeah, leading up the event we had a secret 11.11 view where if you typed “1111” into the search bar the whole site was transformed into “11.11 Mode” showing the singles day prices and revealing a special filter to sort products by most on sale.

We also launched a site which got a bit of traction socially. It just says “Yes” or “No” with a countdown to the 11.11 sale and was something a lot of people shared with their friends for a laugh.

Sometimes when websites receive an unexpected big boost in traffic, the back end can’t cope. A huge amount of orders can overwhelm a retailer’s systems if robust processes aren’t in place, too. Did anything go wrong at Thieve as a result of Singles’ Day?

Yeah, we had a big issue with this, because of the ProductHunt feature the day before the site. We also had just launched a new version of the site. The new version was much faster to navigate, so people looked at more pages than we had anticipated. As a result the hits on our database skyrocketed. At one stage were making 2,000 plus hits per second. At that point things started to get really slow. We worked closely with our hosting partners to scale up the hardware to handle the traffic. It took a few hours, but fortunately we had it all under control before the sale started.

I would recommend for any other retailers to load test their site in advance. Test what will happen if you get 10 times the traffic, and have a plan with your hosting partners or IT team to handle getting 50 times your normal traffic. 

What advice would you give other Kiwi retailers intending to have a Singles’ Day sale next year? (i.e. any insights into what these shoppers want; how they like to shop, etc.)

There’s a lot of buzz around 11.11 so having a launch or promotion strategy around 11.11 can be really helpful. By piggy backing on the bigger trend you have a good chance to get more coverage and social shares.

We found a lot of people liked to plan in advance, so 11.11 isn’t really just about the day for retailers, it’s more about the month before. Have a method for users to add to cart, or save to a watch list in advance and then be prepared for a huge spike on the day.

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