In the United States, the
lonely have Reddit and cats. In China, they have Singles' Day, which
falls on Nov. 11 — 11.11, the four ones symbolizing "bare branches,"
Chinese slang for bachelors. Thought to have originated about 20 years
ago as a joke on college campuses, Singles' Day was once an occasion for
confessing one's feelings to that special someone. But since 2010,
online retailers have transformed the holiday, also known as "Double
11," into an epic online shopping extravaganza akin to America's Cyber
China has 271 million online consumers, meaning that almost half of
China's 591 million Internet users buy products online. E-commerce sites
Taobao and Tmall, which saw a combined $1 trillion in sales in 2012,
will both be running promotional campaigns during China's Singles' Day.
Among the offers: 50 percent discounts on products like boyfriend body
pillows and hoodies that read "I am single because I am fat." Amazon.cn
declared that the site would sell "20,000 products discounted by as much
as 90 percent." That includes a wedding ring, which singles can
presumeably buy, just in case.
Jack Ma, founder of Internet giant Alibaba, told Chinese Premier Li
Keqiang late last month that Alibaba's sales on Singles' Day 2012 were
"nearly $3.3 billion" — more than double the roughly $1.5 billion
purchased on Cyber Monday in 2012. For Singles' Day 2013, Ma expects
sales to exceed $4.9 billion.
The rise of singletons as a consumer group is not without its own
costs. Chinese business magazine Caijing reported that big delivery
companies were forced to scramble to find over 100 extra airplanes to
handle the 323 million parcels they needed to deliver over the Singles'
Day shopping period.
The holiday strains the logistics system: Products frequently sell
out or arrive late. Even when everything moves smoothly, consumers
complain about commercial gimmicks. According to the Beijing Evening
News, a popular local paper, some online retailers quietly raise prices
before slashing them.
But Chinese have not forgotten about the true meaning of this
holiday: hating singlehood. Singles' Day is an occasion on which Chinese
confess their feelings and try to find significant others. On Nov. 7,
with four days to go before the holiday, the top trending topic on
Weibo, China's Twitter, was "Help Your Roommate Find Someone." Over
200,000 people participated in the discussion, posting pictures of their
roommates (and sometimes themselves) in hopes of avoiding another
lonely Singles' Day.
Chinese are no strangers to loneliness: There are tens of millions of
men in China who may never find love due to the country's massive
gender imbalance, a result of the One Child Policy and a longstanding
preference for male children. Chinese women don't have it easy either:
Those who remain unmarried at the ripe old age of 27 risk being labeled
Although poverty and singledom are often linked outcomes in China, at
least one web user was sure of which was worse. "Spending Singles' Day
alone isn't that scary," he wrote. "What's scary is when you're so poor
you can't even enjoy Taobao's ‘Double 11.'" Retail therapy indeed.