Marketing during Singles Day is becoming more and more challenging. Allison Zhang compiles a list of the major changes from last year.

Next week, Alibaba’s shopping festival antidote to Valentine’s Day – 11.11 or Singles Day – turns 11 years old. The day has come to redefine e-commerce, as well as the might of China’s domestic consumption.

Originally starting out with just 27 merchants back in 2009, the event has now grown to include over 200,000 international brands, one million new products and an estimated 500 million shoppers on Alibaba’s Tmall. And with Alibaba’s acquisition of NetEase Koala – a leading cross-border e-commerce platform – overseas brands will continue to accelerate their presence.

If predictions hold true, there will be 100 million new shoppers looking to take advantage of US$7.15 billion (50 billion RMB) in promotional and coupon savings. Last year, the event was responsible for selling US$30.8 billion USD in gross merchandise volume, far surpassing online revenues from Black Friday, Thanksgiving, Boxing Day and Cyber Monday combined.

Pre-sales dominate on a more immersive Tmall 2.0

In anticipation of large pre-sales this year, thousands of merchants have been upgraded to Tmall 2.0 – previously only available for mass brands – which offers them the ability to customize their flagship stores, using a suite of new tools and features to engage with customers through rich, personalized content and promotions, as well as an omnichannel experience.

With Tmall 2.0’s new features these merchants have seen explosive sales ahead of the actual event: Lancôme, L’Oréal Paris, Shiseido, Helena Rubinstein, Olay, Estee Lauder and The History of Whoo all surpassed US$14 million in sales within the first ten minutes of pre-sales.

Beyond pre-sales, memberships on Tmall have become increasingly important this year, offering brands a way to own their relationships with consumers by turning ‘public traffic’ into ‘private traffic’, allowing them to more effectively and efficiently re-target and retain them.

Live-streamers get favours as well as scrutiny

China’s rise in user-generated content has fuelled the influence of live-streamers in China’s online retail world, whether on Douyin (TikTok), XiaoHongShu (Little Red Book) or Taobao. On the first day of pre-sales this year, sales generated by livestreaming grew 15 times with offers being created specifically for live broadcasts.

Helping to shift consumer focus from “What do I want to buy?” to “What should I be buying?”, KOLs are responsible for brand owners placing greater emphasis on the word-of-mouth effect in China: this has been shown to be twice as strong as that of paid ads, with an average 37% higher retention rate than without KOLs.

One of this year’s greatest pre-sales stories belongs to Li Jiaqi, known fondly in China as the Lipstick King. On the first day of this year’s pre-sales, he attracted over 31 million viewers, selling more than 15,000 items in five minutes. However, he drew a public outcry when he promoted a non-stick frying pan by cooking an egg during a Taobao livestream on Oct 30 to an online audience of more than 400,000. The egg stuck to the bottom of the pan and burnt during the episode. Following the mishap, China’s broadcasting watchdog issued a notice the next day urging the country’s e-commerce platforms to tighten content controls and refrain from false advertising.

KOCs (Key Opinion Consumers) have the final say

Emerging earlier this year, the KOC group represents the latest wave of influencers to dominate China’s e-commerce world. As many celebrity influencers have fallen out of favour with Chinese netizens, who are all too aware of their lucrative brand deals, advertisers have instead started placing greater trust in fellow consumers who have made a trustworthy and reliable name for themselves reviewing products.

Most recently, Perfect Diary centered its entire marketing plan around KOCs, becoming one of China’s most talked-about beauty brands in 2019. While KOLs will certainly be helping to heat up this year’s 11.11, KOCs will have the final word, building or breaking brands in the process.