What Is Singles’ Day? (And What Can I Score?)

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Workers assembling packages for delivery at a sorting center in Lianyungang, China, on Singles’ Day 2016. Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

For those of us who live in the United States, tomorrow is, of course, Veterans Day, but for half a billion Chinese consumers who shop on Chinese e-commerce merchant Alibaba, November 11 takes on a different kind of significance. It’s Singles’ Day, also known as the world’s biggest shopping day (technically today in China). If you’ve been bopping around the internet, you may have read about it as the equivalent of Prime Day or Cyber Monday. In fact, it dwarfs those.

How did Singles’ Day begin?

The event began in 1993 at Chinese universities as an unofficial holiday celebrating singlehood (the four ones of 11/11 symbolize the lonely number), but since Alibaba started its 11.11 Global Shopping Festival back in 2009, it’s turned into an online-shopping megaday that far outstrips even Galentine’s Day Pinot Noir sales.

Just how big is it?

Eight years ago, when Alibaba first turned Singles’ Day into a day of deals, it generated RMB 52 million (U.S. $7. 6 million) in sales — last year it made RMB 120.7 billion (U.S. $17.8 billion). To give you some perspective, Prime Day last year made $525 million. Black Friday and Cyber Monday in combination made $7 billion. According to Alibaba’s head of external affairs Brion Tingler, “11.11 does not ‘kick off’ the shopping season in China. 11.11 is the shopping season.”

What kinds of brands participate?

Of the more than 60,000 international brands that partner with Alibaba for deals, you’ll find familiar names like Uniqlo, New Balance, Macy’s, Nike, Levi’s, GAP, Apple, Bose, Starbucks, Costco, Estée Lauder, M.A.C., Victoria’s Secret, and Polo Ralph Lauren. Sadly, the deals are exclusive to Chinese shoppers.

Is it just online?

It’s mostly online, though to take advantage of the frenzy, more than 1,000 brands have converted physical locations into “smart stores” that allow visitors to shop on screens during Singles’ Day. And, as many luxury fashion brands have done, Alibaba threw a “see now, buy now” fashion show on October 20 that was broadcast across Alibaba platforms such as Youku, Weibo, and Taobao as well as nationwide TV networks, allowing viewers to buy from the Alibaba app in real time.

Okay, but what kinds of deals are available to Americans?

As of right now, not many. Retailers like Nordstrom, Macy’s, Walmart (and, yes, Amazon) aren’t quite ready to cannibalize the Prime Day/Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales paradigm, especially when most Americans don’t know that Singles’ Day even exists.

That said, smaller retailers will be taking advantage of the “holiday,” including some we noted in our most recent sales post: The website Need Supply will be selling never-on-sale brands like Common Projects and Canada Goose (!) for 11 percent off, as will Totokaelo, which has Comme des Garçons on sale (both with code SINGLESDAY11). River Island is celebrating with 20 percent off, and Swiss watch brand Larsson & Jennings is running a buy-two-get-one-free deal. It may not even be Thanksgiving yet, but shopping season is in full swing.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

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What Is Singles’ Day? (And What Can I Score?)