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The challenges and opportunities of bringing the 11.11 Shopping Festival to the world

By Mark Pilkington

China’s 11.11 shopping festival is the biggest of its kind in the world. This year’s’ event saw sales of more than $84 billion through the Alibaba website alone. 

This dwarfs events like Cyber Monday ($10.7 billion) and Black Friday ($8.9 billion).

Formerly little-known, the event was picked up by Alibaba in 2009, and turned into a behemoth shopping extravaganza. The rest of the Chinese online sector soon followed, and, by 2020, it was being supported by most e-commerce platforms and retailers.  


The highlight of the festival is the live Gala event, on the evening of 10 November itself. This event has been watched by as many as 240 million Chinese consumers on TV and livestreaming in 2019.

Although it started life in China, 11.11 is rapidly spreading around the world, driven by AliExpress – the international arm of Alibaba. With its very competitive prices and the variety of offerings, boosted by 11.11 special offers of 50-70 percent, it is rapidly winning over global consumers. 

It is pioneering many 11.11 activities, such as shoppertainment events supported by famous influencers, social media activities and online marketing in key international markets like France, Spain, Russia and Brazil this year, including the first-ever offline 11.11 Gala in France.  

It is also recruiting more international sellers to participate in the event. Many SMEs in these markets are signing up with AliExpress to leverage the digital assets and tools the platform provides. This is part of AliExpress’ ‘LOCAL to LOCAL’ strategy. 

A third factor that is helping the company develop 11.11 internationally is its investment in developing a global distribution system by collaborating with strategic partners. This includes opening more warehouses, working with more local third-party delivery partners and enhancing its network of self-pickup lockers, enabling AliExpress to offer efficient and freedelivery for selected orders for the 2021 festival. 

As a result of the investment, total transactions shipped from AliExpress’ domestic selection warehouses, within the first 47 minutes of the 2021 festival, exceeded that achieved in the first two days of 2020. 

Many other international industry players are now supporting the 11.11 shopping festival.

Amazon moved the start of its holiday period earlier into late October, in order to offer 11.11 promotions. In the United States, more than 100 brands offered 11.11 promotions, including well-known companies like Saks Fifth Avenue and Ann Taylor. 

In Europe, awareness of 11.11 is growing around 18 per cent per annum. In the UK, online fashion leaders ASOS and Boohoo carried strong 11.11 offers, while in Germany, leading online platform, Zalando, also featured the event. 

There are challenges in growing 11.11 in Europe and the United States, with November 11 being known as Armistice or Veterans’ Day, a solemn day of remembrance. 

However, the fact that it falls just before the Western holiday shopping period, makes 11.11 potentially attractive to early shoppers, particularly in view of fears about Covid-related shortages. 

A recent US survey by McKinsey showed that 45 per cent of respondents reported that they had already started holiday shopping in early October, and only 11 percent of respondents were willing to wait until December (versus over 25 per cent of consumers pre-pandemic). 

This year’s 11.11 was the biggest ever, with over 290,000 brands participating, and 900 million Chinese domestic customers on Alibaba’s Chinese platform alone. Given its vast scale and exponential growth, can it really be long before it becomes established globally? 

About Mark Pilkington

Mark Pilkington is a global expert on consumer markets. He combines thought-leadership gained at Oxford University and INSEAD Business School with a track record of success across the branded, e-commerce and retail sectors.

His second book ‘Retail Recovery. How creative retailers are winning in their post-apocalyptic world’ is published in 2021, which includes in-depth case studies of how brands, retailers and retail property owners have succeeded in this new environment, and lays out a clear road map for the future.

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