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Singles' Day in China: The world's biggest shopping event explained

International Women’s Day less about empowerment for China’s e-commerce retailers Source: Getty

Here's what you need to know about Singles' Day in China - which has become the world's biggest one-day shopping event.

Singles' Day, known in Mandarin as Guanggun Jie, literally translates to "single sticks holiday" and is held every year in China on November 11 because written numerically (11/11), the digits look like bare branches.

Conceived at Nanjing University in 1993 as a single person's answer to Valentine's Day, the event sees companies and large corporations host sales and promotions inside their outlets and online.

Although retailers take advantage of the day by advertising discounts, it is still widely associated with e-commerce giant Alibaba, which adopted the day in 2009 when it began using it as a tent pole event to promote discounts on its platforms.

Sales on the day have grown from 40.2 billion yuan (A$8 billion) in 2013 to more than 168.2 billion yuan (A$35 billion) in 2017. Projections suggest that this year's sales will surpass the record set last year.

Chinese students search in a mass of parcels, most of which are from Singles Day online shopping, at Nanjing Normal University in Nanjing city
Chinese students search in a mass of parcels, most of which are from Singles Day online shopping, at Nanjing Normal University in Nanjing city

A bridge between Australia and China 

International companies work as bridging services on the day, including Sydney-based consultancy firm Access CN, which has taken part in Singles' Day for the past seven days. 

Access CN functions as a 'Daigou', or middleman assisting Chinese customers to purchase commodities from overseas markets. 

The company's Australian client list includes Westfield, David Jones and Dior.

Director Livia Wang told SBS Mandarin it usually takes months to prepare for the day, which usually sees peak sales over a period of five and six hours.

In fact, Ms Wang said preparations began in July, to ensure that stock arrives in China before November 11.

Staff at Access CN
Staff at Access CN, with Livia Wang on far left.
Access CN

Her staff usually handle thousands of sales before and during the day -  involving hundreds of thousands of delivered packages. 

“All the staffs will camp in the company during three days before and on the day," Ms Wang said.

She said the day presented an opportunity for companies to build their brands.

She placed her company's selling goal for 2018 at 1.5 billion yuan (A$297 million), which was more than ten times that of 2017 sales. 

"As a seller, you can’t become rich overnight with the 11/11, because it is a testing day for how you deal with customers in the past year. On that day, you will get an answer from the customers' choice," she said. 

In her role as director, Ms Wang travels among Australia, China and New Zealand.