SINGAPORE: Despite it being a Saturday, Ms Sharon Wong will be heading back to work on Nov 11.
Together with her employees, the founder of Motherswork will be keenly monitoring orders coming through from China given that her firm is participating in the Singles’ Day sale for the first time.
The homegrown firm specialising in products for mothers and babies will be retailing on Alibaba’s Tmall – an e-marketplace for international brands, unlike Taobao which operates as a consumer-to-consumer e-commerce platform.
“It might be a crazy day but we are all excited because I think it will be something very different from what we get in Singapore,” Ms Wong told Channel NewsAsia. “You don’t exactly play with volume here.”
After all, the annual Singles’ Day sale on Nov 11 is China's – and possibly the world’s – biggest online shopping day of the year.
Launched by Internet behemoth Alibaba eight years ago as a day for single people to splurge on themselves, the 24-hour event has morphed into a spending extravaganza over the years. In 2016, it raked in a record US$17.8 billion (S$24.2 billion) in sales, eclipsing the combined online sales of US$12.8 billion from equivalent events in the United States, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
In the lead-up to the Singles’ Day sale, Motherswork has received pre-orders for about 130 strollers and 160 milk bottles. Ms Wong expects thousands of its products to be sold on Saturday and its page on Tmall to see a minimum of 100,000 visits – throwing up an opportunity for it to expand its customer base in one of the world’s biggest consumer market.
Baby bottle manufacturer Hegen, which is also a first-time participant in the Singles’ Day sale, began ramping up stock shipments and inventories at its warehouse in He Fei four months ago.
“Our local partners have been telling us that sales on that day may exceed sales for the entire year,” said founder and managing director Yvon Bock, who expects Singles’ Day to lift the brand’s total sales in 2017 to half a million bottles.
“They are all really excited cos if we do well, they will likely get a boost too.”
Also fuelling the brand’s ambitious sales target is the fact that Ms Bock, 38, will be featured in a 12-hour live programme on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms. The programme called Feng Kuang Boss, which means “Crazy Boss” in mandarin, will see representatives from 40 international brands take part in a series of activities such as live question-and-answer (Q&A) sessions with online shoppers.
“It’s my first time participating in such an event so I don’t quite know what to expect,” Ms Bock said. “We’ve been told that the viewership can go up to 10 million people at any one time so I just hope that I live up to the expectations of being the only representative from Singapore.”
Over at Hi-Beau International, the retailer specialising in health supplements and cosmetics is hoping to see its sales on Tmall quadruple to 4 million renminbi (S$819,545) this year.
Its first experience of the Singles’ Day sale last year was “crazy”, according to managing director Mike Zhang, who added that the firm has improved its processes to cope with the deluge of upcoming orders.
“Last year, we shipped 100 per cent from Singapore and everything was crazy. Not just on the day itself, but for about a week as we did all the order processing and packing in our warehouse,” he said.
“But this year, we have shipped around two-thirds of our goods to warehouses in places like Hong Kong and Shenzhen. We are well-prepared and all ready.”
EYEING THE SINGAPORE MARKET
But these homegrown retailers are not only focused on the Chinese market.
Back home, Motherswork and Hi-Beau have joined e-commerce site Lazada's month-long shopping festival – Online Revolution sale – which sees retailers offering markdowns as high as 90 per cent from Nov 11 to Dec 12.
According to Lazada Singapore’s CEO Alexis Lanternier, 5,000 local sellers are participating in the sale this year, twice more than last year, with many of them being traditional brick-and-mortar SMEs.
“Both these stores and brands are looking to digitise their business, to expand their online presence and reach out to more customers,” Mr Lanternier noted.
The Singles’ Day fever seems to have spilled offline as well.
Department store Metro, for one, will be having its first Singles’ Day sale on Saturday, offering buy one get one free deals and 20 per cent storewide discounts for certain card holders.
“With our revamped online store this year, we see it as appropriate to market Single’s Day, which is traditionally an online shopping event, to both our physical and online stores, creating the O2O (offline to online) experience for our customers,” marketing manager Peggy Tan said in an emailed reply.
“MORE SALES LIKE THESE WILL ONLY BE GOOD FOR SHOPPERS”
This growth in prominence and popularity of the Singles’ Day sale is noticed by long-time Taobao shopper Ms Florence Goh. The 29-year-old Singaporean began shopping on Taobao 11 years ago when she was a student with “limited pocket money”.
“Over the years, it seems to be no longer just happening on Taobao. Especially this year, you can see it on other websites like Qoo10 and even physical shops. It has become quite a big shopping event.”
For Ms Goh, the allure about shopping on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms, especially during Singles’ Day, is the opportunity to snag bargains for a wide variety of items ranging from fashion accessories to furniture and household items.
“Shopping on Taobao seems to have seeped into my everyday life because it’s so much cheaper. 80 to 90 per cent of the stuff at my new house, like handphone covers, cutleries, decorative plants to big furniture, are from Taobao.”
For instance, Ms Goh purchased two sets of sofa at S$300 during last year’s Singles’ Day sale, which she described as a “really good deal”. The only downside, she said, is potential delays in shipping.
Her sofas were only delivered in January – two months after she placed her order.
According to Alibaba, consumers from Singapore formed the seventh biggest group of overseas shoppers in 2015, coming behind bigger spenders from Russia, Hong Kong, United States, Taiwan and Spain.
Alibaba declined to reveal the updated ranking for 2016 but said that snacks and local specialties, electronic devices like mobile phone covers and chargers, as well as personal hygiene products such as sanitary pads and toilet paper were among the top three product categories that Singaporeans purchased during last year’s Singles’ Day sale.
But its not just Singles' Day that shoppers are opening their wallets for; Black Friday and Cyber Monday are also scheduled to happen this month on Nov 24 and Nov 27, respectively.
According to a survey done by cashback start-up ShopBack, more than half of the 800 local consumers surveyed indicated that they spend more money online than in-store during the last quarter of the year.
Apart from the usual year-end festivals like Christmas and New Year, sales such as Singles' Day, have also been fuelling year-end shopping spending by consumers. Respondents in Singapore chalked up a cumulative sum of S$313,710 over four sale festivals last year, namely Singles’ Day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and 12.12.
Ms Violet Tham, 25, said she is taking a “look and see” attitude on Saturday given that she has been a “Black Friday fan” for the past few years.
“I prefer Western brands but this year, some of my favourite brands like MAC Cosmetics are having sales on Singles’ Day so I might just take a look,” she told Channel NewsAsia. “More sales like these will only be good for shoppers.”