Pictured: Richard Liu, JD.com’s CEO and founder, in 2014 (via China Daily)
China’s outside-the-box thinking has rewritten the book on e-commerce in a strikingly short amount of time. One complete game changer came from Alibaba Group, which is responsible for the explosion of the now-infamous “Singles Day” sale on November 11.
Singles Day (11/11 – all ones) has its origins in Nanjing college culture during the 1990s, but Alibaba took it to a new level in 2011 (11/11/11) when it initiated the Singles Day online sale, which has since grown into the largest online shopping day in the world. Competitors were quick to initiate their own sales, and leading rival JD.com responded with a holiday of its own – 618 Day on June 18, first observed in 2010 to celebrate the company’s anniversary.
Celebrities have gotten in on the act, such as Stephon Marbury, who was tabbed to make some special deliveries for customers in 2015:
During the month of June in the days leading up to the 18th, the company launched site-wide sales. Competing sites rolled out their own deals in response, a phenomenon that analysts note is to the benefit of China’s 1.4 billion consumers.
JD’s been seeing growth over all its diverse sectors (delivery of fresh grocery items, for instance), but its specialty is in consumer electronics. 6/18’s deals give the opportunity, if not the excuse, for China’s buyers to feed into their gadget desires.
“I’m buying bluetooth headphones, and an iPod shuffle,” says Thomas Lee, university student. “To me, 618 is like Black Friday. People save up for a long time to buy things they want, or just because the price drops.”
“618, the artificial holiday, is just like 11/11,” adds Ravan Liu. “Lots of big electronics brands have sales on this day. I mean, I know it’s a way of promoting themselves, but there are lots of things that are really cheap. Whatever I need, I’ll buy, as long as the quality’s good.”
Brian Ma, working at a digital advertising agency, spoke from the sellers’ perspective: “We have to promote this product that’s been out of stock, so we need big discounts and a lot of different platforms to promote it on. It’s a big opportunity to draw in revenue.”
In terms of impact, JD’s initiative with 618 day pales in comparison to Alibaba Group’s monstrous Singles Day, which last year shot sales up to 91.22 billion yuan of gross merchandise volume (GMV). JD does not reach comparable numbers, but did receive over 100 million orders during this year’s celebration. The holiday’s more modest results, though overshadowed by the pond’s big fish, nonetheless represent huge spikes in JD’s bottom line.
What’s more is that the growing number of initiatives like this is an important sign in its own right. It’s an indicator of the competition within China’s e-commerce industry, and of the sales innovation that’s taking place there. Not to be forgotten are the consumers themselves, a huge force of the population who are only further empowered by the sales, across all sectors of their lives. That’s indeed something to celebrate.