Insight – Singles Day 2021: Lower-tier cities drive sales in another blockbuster year

22 December 2021

Singles Day 2021 was another blockbuster. This year, some interesting trends emerged. Consumers in lower-tier cities accounted for most of the sales. E-commerce platforms also accommodated senior citizens and consumers with a disability.

This insight draws on Singles Day results to highlight the importance of various Chinese demographics.

2021 sales up on 2020

Singles Day reached ¥965 billion in gross merchandise sales this year. This was up 12.22% on last year (Source: China Business Industry Research Institute, Transaction for 2021’s “double eleven” exceeded 960 billion yuan, the number of parcels delivered on that day reached 1.158 billion (in Chinese), 12 November 2021).

Singles Day leader, Alibaba, grew just 8.5%. JD was up 28.6% on the previous year (Source: Daxue Consulting, How Singles Day 2021 was different from all previous Chinese shopping festivals, 18 November 2021).

This year’s Singles Day reflected a change in consumption patterns among consumers in tier 1 and lower tier cities.

These changes were partially due to:

  • Sales being nearly a month long. Pre-sales started on 20 October and lasted until midnight on 11 November. This created a relaxed shopping environment.
  • The government’s call for ‘common prosperity’ and a crackdown on big tech. This made the push for big sales numbers less apparent.
  • Other platforms stepping in to capture some of the Singles Day sales. For example, Douyin reported 25.4 million hours of live streaming on its platform. The live streams were watched 39.5 billion times during Singles Day (Source: Douyin Double Eleven Report, Domestic brands shine during Tik Tok’s Double 11 Good Things Festival (in Chinese), 12 November 2021).

Lower-tier cities lead in sales

Consumers in lower tier cities are considered more price-sensitive than those in tier 1 cities. These consumers have started making up most Singles Day sales. This year, they accounted for 77% of all shoppers during the shopping festival. (Source: JD Corporate Blog, posts over RMB 349.1 billion yuan transaction volume for Singles Day Grand Promotion 2021, 12 November 2021).

The wealth in these cities, although lower than tier 1 cities, has been growing quickly. Some lower-tier cities, like Guiyang, have the highest disposable income per head (Economist Intelligence Unit, China’s emerging cities 2021: Southeast China takes the lead, 18 August 2021).

Lower-tier cities, often overlooked by foreign brands, are great because:

Tier 1 cities may not always be the main sales destination. Consider expanding marketing efforts to lower-tier cities where wealth is growing.

Inclusive shopping efforts for senior citizens and those with disabilities

Beyond targeting more consumers in general, inclusivity was another highlight from this year’s Singles Day.

Forrester data shows that nearly three-quarters of consumers aged 65 or above in metro China will shop more online (Source: Forrester, Metaverse, NFTs, sustainability and loyalty – Highlights of Singles Day 2021, 7 November 2021). During Singles Day, Alibaba launched Taobao “senior mode”. The platform created larger text and icons, and offered voice-assistance to search for products.

Tmall also launched the ‘One Shoe Program’ (一只鞋计划) for people with disabilities (Source: SocialBeta Report, Tmall and other brands launch the “One Shoe Project” (in Chinese), 25 October 2021). Shoe brands such as Sketchers and Reebok participated. They offered consumers the option to buy one shoe at half the price of a normal pair.

Remember that a sale is more than just a sale. Think about how your brand can cater to a range of demographics, backgrounds and abilities. This will help you create a lasting impact in the China market.

About this insight

We commissioned this insight from China Skinny. China Skinny is a Shanghai-based market research consultancy.

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