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How to stand out on Singles Day, the biggest online shopping day of the year

After Singles Day 2016 in China became the world’s largest online shopping event with reported sales of over US$17.8 billion (up from $14.3 billion in 2015), those 24 hours accounted for a fifth of annual revenue for many retailers. With an increasing number of Australian retailers focusing their attentions on the Chinese market, what’s in store for this year?

Although only eight years old, this commercial extravaganza driven by Alibaba has transformed consumer behaviour in China and become a global business. Last year, one third of Singles Day sales were from overseas brands and this year is expected to be much bigger as more retailers enter the market.

The Chinese craze for end-of-year discounted shopping also extends to overseas events. Black Friday, Cyber Monday and even Christmas are becoming increasingly popular, driven by appetite for overseas goods. Having a presence during these massive events is a no-brainer for any retailer or brand looking to win in China, but it’s not enough.

Although the rewards are certainly enticing, these events create a challenging environment. Alibaba and, two of China’s largest online shopping sites, will monopolise TV and web advertising, plus prices are prohibitively expensive at that time of year.

Here are five digital marketing techniques to help you get noticed:

1. Really get to know your customer

This year has seen the rise of the female Chinese consumer. According to, the number of women shoppers doubled during its mid-year sales, while Azoya’s research indicates that 70 per cent of active Chinese customers on overseas e-commerce sites are female. This influences what sells well, particularly beauty, mother and baby products, as well as health and nutrition.

You need to ensure your messaging and products are relevant and attractive. Compared to male shoppers, women are proven to be rigorous in their research and will spend more time reading reviews and comparing prices on social media or shopping guide websites.

2. Put mobile first

Eighty per cent of Chinese shoppers reportedly used their mobiles to make purchases during Singles Day 2016, which is expected to rise this year given the event falls on a Saturday, so consumers are more likely to be shopping on the go, rather than via desktop devices.

Chinese online consumers are typically young and digitally shrewd. Shopping by phone is quick and convenient, thanks to convenient payment methods, particularly Alipay, Union Pay and WeChat Pay. It’s worth integrating these payment platforms on your Chinese website to sell successfully.

These platforms open up further opportunities for digital marketing too. For example, you can encourage customers to follow your social media accounts after a purchase and drive sales with joint campaigns with payment providers, offering discounts, coupons and special deals.

3. Spread the word

Mobile commerce is also closely linked with social media. Focus attention on creating and delivering dynamic, engaging and relevant campaigns across key Chinese social networks before and throughout the holiday season, when shoppers are even more active.

WeChat is undoubtedly the most effective network to reach consumers, but Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter) is important too. Also consider Youku Tudou (Chinese equivalent of YouTube), but its popularity is waning as many retailers switch to Weibo to post their own content as short videos and live streaming.

Posting audio and video content, news and promotions are proven methods of adding value to a brand and building positive relationships with customers. Chinese consumers enjoy anything quirky, so be inventive with interactive mini games and graphics. They want to be entertained, as well as educated.

A multichannel approach is, therefore, an essential part of digital marketing in China, providing the best chance of having your message seen by target audiences. The more content available, the easier it will be for your brand to be found.

Each platform also attracts slightly different users, allowing you to engage them in their preferred way. Cross-channel promotion provides further opportunity to convert a prospect into a lead – users who like video content may check out your Weibo or WeChat account.

4. Go it alone to stand out

Alibaba and are undeniably the most significant players in China’s ecommerce sector, but their marketplaces are crowded. This tends to lead to extreme price matching activities over the holiday period that can hurt small to medium-sized companies.

Many Australian retailers prefer to take control of their marketing operations by developing their own Chinese website, which enables them to target niche customers and differentiate through quality and service.

5. More technology please

The Chinese love new technology and live streaming has become increasingly popular over the past 12 months, driven by demand among millennials craving interactive, real-time content. Popular hosts with large fan bases can be hired to help promote products, while Alibaba’s Taobao and rival have their own live streaming platforms.

As for virtual reality, the technology is there but customer behaviour needs to catch up, so it’s unlikely to make a big impact on this year’s holiday sales. But, it’s certainly an area to watch.

Sylvia Wei is Azoya’s deputy managing director for Australia. Based in Melbourne, Ms Wei delivers the value proposition of Azoya’s cross-border e-commerce solutions to retail customers and prospects in Australia, as well as establishing the company’s local partner network. 

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