SINGAPORE: When the clock strikes 12 on Thursday (Nov 10), Ms Lv Jing will be on a mission: To check out as many items in her shopping cart on Alibaba's e-retail platform Taobao as quickly as she can.
Over the past week, the 31-year-old Singaporean teacher has been browsing through the thousands of retailers on the popular Chinese site and filling her shopping cart. To secure the items at steep discounts and qualify for additional promotions on Singles' Day, speed will be key, Ms Lv told Channel NewsAsia.
After all, the annual event on Nov 11 is China's – and the world’s – biggest online shopping day of the year. Launched by Internet behemoth Alibaba seven years ago as a day for single people to splurge on themselves, the 24-hour event sees retailers offering huge markdowns.
In 2015, Alibaba reported a record US$14.3 billion (S$20 billion) in sales, eclipsing the combined online sales of US$11.1 billion from equivalent events in the United States such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Last year, Ms Lv started making her purchases as soon as the retail bonanza kicked off at midnight. By the end of Nov 11, she had spent almost S$2,000 on toys for her newborn, clothing and fashion accessories, and even received a free oven from a retailer for being its first 20 customers.
"Last year was perhaps my craziest shopping experience. I was on maternity leave; apart from feeding and playing with my baby, I was shopping until the very last minute of ‘shuangshiyi’," she said. Singles’ Day is commonly referred to as “Double 11” or “shuangshiyi” in Chinese due to its date.
"Everything was cheap. Sellers also have additional promotions such as 20 yuan off for 200 yuan worth of items or they give out free gifts like iPhones at specific timings. So if you miss the first promotion, you'll need to plan and see if you can make it for the second one," Ms Lv added.
Ms Lv Jing spent nearly S$2,000 on Singles' Day last year. (Photo: Tang See Kit)
ON THE SHOPPING LIST: CLOTHES, FURNITURE, DEVICES
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.
According to Alibaba, clothes and handbags, electronic devices like mobile phones and flat-screen TVs, and home appliances such as robotic vacuum cleaners, were the top five items that Singaporeans purchased during last year’s Singles’ Day sale.
Apart from a growing love for online shopping, the emergence of shopping agents offering purchasing and shipping services has also fuelled interest among Singaporeans to shop on overseas websites like Taobao, said Euromonitor analyst Lim Yu Xian.
“The concept of shopping on overseas websites saw increased consumer awareness with the rise of shopping agents such as ezbuy, SGShop and vPOST,” Ms Lim explained. “Singaporeans also tend to look out for bargains and thus they are attracted to the cheaper prices on Chinese websites.”
For Ms Doleries Kwok, the upcoming Singles’ Day is an opportunity to snag bargains for furniture and household items. The 28-year-old financial consultant has so far spent S$3,000 on Taobao to buy items like a dining table, armchairs and bathroom cabinets for her new home.
Among the items she plans to buy this Friday are a soundbar, bedsheets, clothes hangers and kitchenware. "I'm planning to buy a lot more things ... and my budget is around S$400 to S$500," said Ms Kwok, who started shopping on Alibaba's e-commerce platform nearly three years ago.
A bigger variety of products, the availability of customisation services, and most importantly, much lower prices than what one would have to pay in Singapore are the reasons Ms Kwok has turned to Taobao for big-ticket items like furniture. "I have budget constraints. Besides, there's more variety and colours available on Taobao, which you can hardly find in Singapore."
For example, Ms Kwok said she forked out around S$200 for a wooden dining table. Even adding on shipping fees, the price was still about one-third that of a similar table she was eyeing at a local furniture store.
When asked if she was concerned about sub-par products, Ms Kwok said she would usually do her research by reading reviews and communicating with retailers before placing orders. So far, she has been pleased with her purchases, she said.
Ms Doleries Kwok has set aside S$500 to buy furniture and household items on Taobao during the annual sale. (Photo: Tang See Kit)
Meanwhile, Ms Carrie Lee, who will participate in the Singles' Day sale for the first time this year, said she is on the lookout for electronic devices such as closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking tags.
The director of a small- and medium-size enterprise (SME), Ms Lee had previously purchased these items on Taobao and plans to make bulk purchases on behalf of her company during the sale.
"I got to know about Singles' Day last year when there was news about how Alibaba rewrote their sales record. That got me interested and I wanted to see for myself how much are the discounts," Ms Lee said. "If they're good, I will buy because for the items that I'm sourcing, purchasing on Taobao means great savings."
"With the current economy, savings are even more important for SMEs like us," she added.
OTHER E-RETAILERS HOP ON BANDWAGON
With the success of Alibaba's Singles' Day sale, other e-commerce players in China like JD.com have started offering their own discounts on Nov 11.
Likewise in Singapore, some online sites and local retailers have also jumped on the bandwagon. Cashback platform Shopback, for one, has teamed up with Alibaba and other merchants for the second year running to roll out exclusive deals.
"It's not just Alibaba that wants to hit a new sales record, other merchants also saw the opportunity in latching on so for them, we are a very good platform as an additional touchpoint to reach customers that they otherwise cannot reach," Ms Josephine Chow, country head for Singapore at Shopback, told Channel NewsAsia.
Given that Singaporeans may have difficulties shopping on Taobao – which is not available in English – and navigating its extensive list of retailers and products, Shopback has also organised tutorials to teach new Taobao shoppers how to snag better deals during Singles' Day.
Quilts for Alibaba employees to rest as they prepare for the upcoming 11.11 global shopping festival, also called Singles' Day. (Photo: Reuters)
Meanwhile, other local online platforms that will launch discounts on Singles' Day include Alibaba-backed Lazada and fashion retailer Zalora.
"The commercial value from huge campaigns like this comes from collective action. When more retailers join in, it creates more marketing effect and increases awareness for everyone," Euromonitor's Ms Lim said.
The analyst is upbeat that Singles' Day sales in Singapore this year will hold up despite a gloomy economic outlook.
"Online retail has been a bright spot for the retail sector amid the economic slowdown," she said, adding that the research group has seen strong double-digit growth for online retail in Singapore over the past five years.
The shift to online shopping and campaigns such as Singles’ Day are also why the Great Singapore Sale is losing its lustre, Ms Lim said.
Consumers like Ms Karen Tao are among those who prefer to shop online than at brick-and-mortar stores. Taobao is one of her favourite shopping sites, and she has spent about S$12,000 there in the past 12 months alone.
"Once you realise that you can get something so much cheaper online, you wouldn't want to shop in Singapore anymore. Even if I do go shopping and see something that I like, I'll take a picture and try to find it online," Ms Tao said. "Unlike last year's Singles' Day, I haven't had time to do my research this year but I'll make sure I buy some things on Nov 11. I can't miss out."
While she acknowledges the concerns that some shoppers may have about the quality of products sold on Taobao, Ms Tao likens her online retail journey on the platform to a treasure hunt.
"It's about finding the good from the bad and when you get a quality buy, that's really 'tao bao' (Chinese for searching for treasures)," she said. "It’s like a treasure hunt and when you do find one, it can be really satisfying."
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