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GUEST COMMENT Singles’ Day: How western brands can tackle the biggest shopping day in the world

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Despite the events and associated financial uncertainty of 2020, a new sales record in China was hit last November. Singles’ Day saw an incredible $115billion dollars in sales. Customers didn’t hesitate to snap up bargains across different sectors, and data from the Rakuten Advertising affiliate network revealed that accessory and apparel orders increased by a third in 2020, compared to the previous year. This may have been due in part to the ‘revenge shopping’ trend, which saw shoppers spend voraciously to make up for lost time following multiple lockdowns. 

But the growth in sales has resulted in a highly congested market, making it difficult for western brands looking to increase their visibility in Asian markets to get cut through. The competitiveness associated with sales periods can be seen to promote the ‘race to the bottom’ strategy that relies on heavy discounting. Most retailers will want to avoid this to maintain profits and brand reputation – especially in the luxury market. Instead, a more thoughtful and considered strategy, which cleverly uses affiliate partnerships to help tell the brand’s authentic story, can help retailers drive sales. 

Leveraging brand heritage as a key differentiator

Considering how established Singles’ Day is in China and the wider APAC market, it’s natural for local retailers to have the upper hand. After all, they’ve navigated the landscape and have insights from previous years to rely on, and they know their audience intimately. Competing directly with this home advantage automatically places western brands at a disadvantage. 

Fortunately, there is a sustained appetite for British brands in Asia, and retailers should look at their own identity to see what makes them desirable to local consumers. It might be their own legacy story, unique design, consistent high quality or use of local materials and craftsmanship which makes them appealing. This investment in market research will pay dividends and reveal their strongest playing card. 

Brands can then look to craft a region-specific marketing strategy to target the right customer to align with their offering. This includes identifying the most relevant local publishers to help brands reach and understand specific audiences. Taking a niche approach ensures that the message lands with the intended audience, increasing the likelihood of conversions. 

Avoid a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to publisher strategies

Publishers are retailers’ secret weapon to gaining cut through, but it’s key to take the time to assess their offerings and audience profiles to help tailor the features of the partnership appropriately. 

An important point to remember is that the relationship with the publisher is two-way. Publishers can act as a valuable resource to inform the marketing strategy and determine the best approach, due to their deep knowledge of the local market. They can provide additional insights and advice on the right tactics to ensure success. 

For example, vouchers can be appropriate for luxury brands who are keen to maintain their exclusive reputations if the offers are tailored to the key audience or implemented as part of a test and learn exercise. Other tactics such as loyalty schemes that offer gifts or free shipping can also add value for shoppers. This is especially true as shipping costs can be significant between the UK and Asia. Newer affiliate models, such as card linked partnerships allow brands to target consumers based on historical transactional data, offering bespoke incentives and offers. These not only have the advantage of improving the chances of a successful transaction, but they help strengthen customer relationships and build loyalty over time. 

Aside from sales conversions, local publishers can affect different stages of the customer journey, including brand discovery. Potential customers will want to know why they should care about a specific brand and understand the value they bring. Due to the scale of publishers’ influence and access to engaged audiences, they can interpret a brand’s story and make it even more relevant for the market. Publishers can also help raise awareness of the brands through personal recommendations. This is especially true for concierge publishers who are popular within Asian markets. They offer a premium service to brands, helping them translate their content into local languages, organise shipping and even manage payments. These publishers can also respond to customer service enquiries in real time, preventing communication delays due to time differences. As a result, they can be a key driver of awareness and sales in the region. 

Maximising the upcoming shopping season

Considering the potential rewards, it’s important for brands to shift their strategy and approach the shopping season in a specific, targeted way. While it’s tempting to put Singles’ Day in the same boat as Black Friday and Cyber Monday due to the proximity in the calendar, it’s important for brands to consider this event as its own entity.

This year, Singles’ Day offers a compelling opportunity for western brands to position their affiliate partnerships in a way that highlights their unique selling points and heritage story. Even with the best intentions, generic brand stories are unlikely to impress seasoned consumers across Asia. Instead, leveraging the points that keep shoppers coming back – combined with the right incentives for the audience – will be the best way for a brand to cement its position and ensure long term success in the market. 


Rakhee Jogia, International MD, Rakuten Advertising 

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