Saturday, December 1, 2012

Half price for those with no "better half"

Singles' Day

One would have thought that Singles' Day would be a celebration of being single, when those who consider themselves lucky having escaped the clutches of matrimony, will revel with gusto and exchange congratulatory messages.  However in China, one of the few countries which has taken to the festival with enthusiasm, we see dating parties, mass marriage ceremonies and other activities designed to help the singles in losing their independence. Singles' Day seems to be treated as an occasion to attempt to rid oneself of one's single-hood and start dreaming of romantic togetherness, rather than a celebration of "single-hood". 

Online shopping extravaganza

While the significance that this day (which is celebrated every year on the 11th day of the 11th month) is debatable, the marketers have latched on to this and adopted it as a day when they will get rid of their inventories and persuade consumers to liberally open their purse strings.  During some other holidays also, most notably golden week holidays (or huangjinzhou ), we witness festooned shopping malls beckoning customers with enticing deals. Customers normally do not disappoint the marketers and reach liberally for their wallets during this period of biannual break (down to two a year from the earlier three, as May Day holiday is reduced to a single day celebration). Other festivals like Mother's Day or Father's Day also try to offer excuses for retail therapy. Singles' Day is a relative new addition to these hyper shopping festivals. The logic of why one should shop on Singles' Day is not clear (one can more easily understand why one would shop on Valentine's Day). Perhaps it is to console oneself, literally using shopping as a therapy for loneliness. Or to buy the latest fashion paraphernalia to prepare oneself for the mating ritual and try to win the attention of the opposite sex while dressed like a peacock. One needs these accessories as the game is becoming increasingly competitive, the gender imbalance in China means that there would be 24 million Chinese men who will be unable to secure a bride in the next 10 years. For these souls Singles' Day may become a life-long celebration (or lament), and "half price" at the retail shops a substitute of having a "better half".

With the unstoppable growth in popularity of online shopping, the e-commerce vendors are trying to create their own occasions for shopping. They seem to have successfully hijacked Singles' day shopping bonanza and clearly established it as a special occasion not just for any shopping buy specially for online shopping. This year it is estimated that 213 million of the 550 million internet users, took the opportunity to click a purchase on Singles' Day. Alibaba, the owner of the largest online platforms in China (Taobao and Tmall) claims to have offloaded merchandise worth a hefty 19.1 billion yuan on a single Singles' day. The secret of the success is attributed to generous discounting, with some products available for picking at half the regular price. 

Marketing opportunity

Is this shopping orgy, on a particular day of the year, with no natural connection to buying, a marketing success? Does it lead to sustained increased consumption, or merely an advancement of the purchase date, as is true with many other promotions? Does it really add value to the brands or the retailers in the long run? As with all promotions, marketers need to seek answers to these questions by carefully studying consumer behavior and attitudes. At the same time they need to worry about the potentially negative effect of heavy price-offs on brand image. In fact they need to explore how they can convert this occasion from a mere opportunity to offload their unsold goods, to an occasion to knit a bond with the consumers. According to the TIME magazine's "10 Ideas that are changing  your life", living alone is the new norm - 28% of all U.S. households are made up of people who live alone. With declining birth rate, delayed marriages and high divorce rate, the number of single member households in China is also on the increase. Marketers need to adopt a long-term strategy and look at the Singles' Day as an opportunity and occasion to win the affection and hearts of these singles in a more durable manner (after all they are still unattached and very likely to be open to a bit of love and wooing!) rather than merely a tactical opportunity to lighten their unsold inventory.

Written by Ashok Sethi
Regional Development Director – GfK Consumer Experiences, Asia Pacific