The Origin of Double Eleven

China's Double Eleven holiday is almost here...

Nov. 11, the one day when people discard all of their irrelevant humanity, the one day when people wait until midnight and start to click the mouse and refresh dozens of pages, the one day when people’s desire to consume is arisen beyond its limit. There is no doubt that Nov. 11 has become one of the most influential date throughout the year, and its impact cannot be fully described by its exponential annual increase.

So what’s the origin of this special date? Out of various possibilities, it is widely accepted that it originated from the dorm culture of Nanjing University in 1993. Since Nov. 11 is written as 11.11 numerically, it triggered Chinese college student’s imagination that these ‘1’s symbolize single persons, and then it led to the idea of “bachelors’ day” or “singles’ day”. Single college students, mainly male, gather together on this special day to share their stories. Their emotions are subtle considering the fact they try their best to feel proud of being single on this day while at the same time they want to be in love with someone as soon as possible. Such a concept was spread across universities in Nanjing, and the development of Internet, especially online communities, helped this idea to be passed on to the entire nation.

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Then how did this date become a carnival of online consumption?

Taobao, well known as the place where you can get nearly everything you want with high risk of getting ripped off, was the trailblazer who associated the date with its own sales plan. Back in 2009 when Taobao was still gaining popularity, Alibaba Group, owner of Taobao, tried to boost the process to take over the market. One strategy they implemented, which later on turned out to be the best strategy of marketing and sales, is to create a unique online shopping festival, in other words, to create a culture of its own to attract people.

It was difficult to construct a festival out of nothing and expect it to be recognized by the public. Therefore, Alibaba Group associated the festival with the concept of Singles’ Day and “Double 11 e-commerce festival” is brought to the market. The festival utilized a consumer psychology effect to advertise its own shopping festival: one can either complement himself or herself with happiness through buying something nice and cheap or prepare the gifts for his or her future lover. Though only twenty-seven big name brands cooperated with Taobao, the first Double 11 Festival displayed a promising future with a total sales of 52 million CNY.

The success in 2009 built an extraordinary reputation for Double Eleven, and that is what prompted Taobao’s ambition. Throughout the last two years, the total sales of Double Eleven substantially increased from 57.1 billion CNY to 91.2 billion CNY, which is equivalent to 14.3 billion USD, which is even larger than the GDP of more than 70 countries in the world.

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While the concept of “bachelor’s day” has been diminished, Double Eleven is almost ritualized in China. It will be a wonder to behold how many students at NYU Shanghai will stay up until midnight and consume like crazy.


This article was written by ZJ Lu. Please send an email to managing@oncenturyavenue.com to get in touch.
Photo Credit: South China Morning Post

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