Does Chinese Singles’ Day or Black Friday contribute more to the global economy?

Each November, the two biggest global shopping and eCommerce events take place: Chinese Single’s Day and Black Friday. Both generate billions in sales and provide boundless opportunities for retailers to expand their brand, but does one contribute more to the global economy than the other?

Across the world, all manner of products are scooped up by consumers for staggeringly low prices, with a particular onus on clothes, cosmetics and electronics. And with sales growing exponentially year on year, there’s little sign of this festival of consumerism slowing down.

Taking place on the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday has come a long way since its inception in the United States. Not only has its sales increased, but so too has its reputation for inciting consumer mania. Numerous instances of violence have been recorded on the day, with the first fatality coming during a customer stampede at a Walmart in 2008.

Black Friday’s reputation precedes itself, but the average Western consumer may be less familiar with its biggest competitor: Chinese Single’s Day. Taking place on November 11th, this anti-Valentine’s Day originated in the students dorms at Nanjing University as a celebration of self-worth and independence. Since its adoption by Jack Ma, charismatic founder of Chinese eCommerce giant Alibaba, it has morphed into a blockbuster event dedicated to retail and relentless entertainment. With over 16 million products on offer, it has dramatically overtaken Black Friday as the biggest online shopping event in the world.

Unstoppable sales and ever-expanding revenue

Both unofficial holidays contribute a huge amount to the global economy, driving unbelievable increases in productivity, imports and exports.

Last year, despite the pandemic, Black Friday grossed a record $22.1billion in retail sales, increasing by approximately $4.5billion from the year before. This includes the $9.8billion raised by Cyber Monday, the concluding, tech-focused event of the Thanksgiving period.

In comparison, Single’s Day made $74.1billion GMV just across Alibaba’s various eCommerce platforms. That’s almost four times more than Black Friday’s entire revenue. That’s an astonishing rise of almost $36billion from 2019, indicating that this is a revelation that is only going to expand further.

So, why is it that Single’s Day is outperforming Black Friday to this extent? And how does its unrelenting growth trickle through the global economy?

New adventures in eCommerce

To put it simply, Single’s Day seems far better equipped for the age of online shopping.

Traditionally, Black Friday in the US has been more of an in-person event. Its name was coined by police in relation to the swathes of traffic on the day after Thanksgiving as consumers flocked towards the malls. In years gone by, it’s attracted international fame for the sheer chaos it causes; stores opening at midnight; dangerous crowd surges; aggression and violence between customers. In 2008, two people were shot and killed during an altercation at a Toys R’ Us in California.

The physical spectacle and psychology of Black Friday has become a major part of its brand. As such, with stores having to focus on the safety of their in-person stores, it’s possible that eCommerce platforms are being neglected. Particularly in the UK, sites have a reputation for loading slowly and going down, unprepared to handle the immense volumes of Black Friday traffic.

Chinese Single’s Day, by contrast, has always been purpose-built for the eCommerce experience. Alibaba and the event’s rival host have accumulated years of experience maintaining high-volume websites. The spectacle aspect comes from elsewhere, in the form of huge events, galas, livestreams and more. Single’s Day events of the past have been headlined by the likes of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. ‘Retail-ment’, Jack MA calls it. Within it, there are endless chances for branding to thrive, for businesses across the world to engage with consumers and enhance their reputation.

Connecting the world

Black Friday has been growing across the Western world for the last 10 years.

For countries like the UK and Canada, Boxing Day was traditionally seen as the big retail holiday of the year. However, Canadian brands have since embraced Black Friday in order to dissuade citizens from crossing the border to spend their stronger Canadian dollars in the States.

Other countries quickly began to follow suit. In the UK, brands like ASDA began introducing Black Friday deals at the turn of the 2010s. Black Friday is also growing in observance in Germany, France, and Brazil. In Romania, 75% of the population have heard of the holiday.

The reach of Chinese Single’s Day stretches more into South East Asia and Australasia. Indonesia practices their own version of the holiday called National Online Shopping Day. Meanwhile, 6.4% of Single’s Day’s consumer clicks come from Australia.

Consumers in Europe may never fully embrace Single’s Day in the same way, due to it taking place on November 11th, which many countries observe as Armistice Day. However, that won’t stop European brands buying into the sensation. Germany, France, Italy and the UK are all among the top-selling countries of Single’s Day products to China. UK brands like Marks & Spencers, Waitrose and ASOS are all part of Alibaba’s ever-expanding eCommerce portfolio.

Transcending retail

Chinese Single’s Day can bolster the economy in several other areas as well.

Going back to its roots as a celebration of singledom, the day is hugely popular for blind dates, public mixer events, and even proposals. In fact, there are now more weddings on this day than on any other day in China. As such, the economic benefit of Single’s Day spreads to more than just big brands. Restaurants, dating services and, of course, China’s famous karaoke kiosks all can feel the impact of Single’s Day.

Gordon Fletcher, retail expert at the University of Salford Business School, points out some differences between the two events, which might also explain the difference in revenue generated.

He said: “The Single’s Day event in China captures a sentiment so closely aligned with the age of the Internet, of a social life mediated online and the personal challenge of meeting people and potential partners. It is a sentiment experienced worldwide to greater or lesser degrees, but in China, this bundle of human emotions has been translated into an outlet for this tension. This translates into retail theory.

“In contrast, the longer history of Black Friday ties it back to the physical retail experience and unashamedly is focused on retailers boosting sales in the lead up to Christmas. In the digital world, it is all about me not about you.”

As the holiday continues to expand, there are only going to be more areas where businesses of all kinds can capitalise. While Black Friday is still an incredibly successful event year on year, Chinese Single’s Days current and potential contribution to the global economy is a phenomenon too big to ignore.