The True Meaning of Singles Day

Singles Day Alibaba

Number 9

Nine billion. Bloomberg is reporting that Alibaba Singles Day revenue yesterday broke $9 billion dollars. Bloomberg’s revenue, by contrast, is $8.3 billion . . . for the year 2013.


But don’t perceive China’s the world’s biggest online B2C platform as a menace to western society. Alibaba is not coming to take your jobs or turn your children into socialists. Rather, it is the electronic manifestation of the Chinese will to consume.


The People’s Holiday

 Singles Day is unique in being the world’s first grass-roots holiday, mandated not by church or state but the people. After all, Valentine’s and Mother’s Day were foisted on us by Madison Avenue. The concept of Singles Day was born in Nanjing University some twenty years ago. Associating the Mandarin idiom for a bachelor, or “lone stick”, with the double elevens of a date – very Chinese.


The transformation of that holiday into the world’s biggest shopping craze – very consumerist. That’s what the savvy western business will take away from yet another record-breaking Singles Day. Faced with all the pressures of striving for first world success, in what is reality a developing country, China’s masses shop. They don’t become politically active; they don’t turn to Buddhism, or seek solace in the boundless depths of their ancient culture. They shop. Online.


Chinese Dream = Western Merch

This Singles Day, they plundered Tmall for live Canadian lobsters, Victoria’s Secret panties, designer iPhone 6 cases, infant-sized Adidas sneakers, Cheerios, Braun shavers, IKEA living room sets, 3M windshield wipers, Inplus calcium supplements – for dogs, genuine Disney Stitch dolls.


And “they” weren’t necessarily the 5% of the population living in China’s first tier cities, where western marketing so disproportionately focuses. “They” were the diaosi, the millions of young ‘losers’ who are educated but average $500 a month, the Chinese dream of house, spouse and car more of a mocking delusion. They were the sheng nu, millions of ‘left over’ women with too much education and career for marriage prospects, but plenty of disposable income.


They were the upwardly-mobile denizens of some 130 cities with a population exceeding Berlin’s, but with no brick-and-mortar access to the myriad goods necessary to participating in modern Chinese culture, that is to say consumer culture.


Sold in China

Alibaba’s Singles Day YOY growth of 56% over last year’s record-breaker ($5.75b) is all the more remarkable in that other big platforms such as JD and Suning made a major go of it as well. But again, the western business needn’t necessarily focus on the scary size of Alibaba. The meaning of Singles Day is that China is less and less for buying from, more and more for selling to. May more of us be singing “Sold in China” next November 11th.



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