So what are the opportunities for Western brands to break into Singles Day? Certainly there is space for them to participate. In fact, UK-based brands including Dyson, Burberry and Jaguar-Land Rover this year earned the sixth biggest slice of sales according to Alibaba – but, as brands such as M&S and Topshop have found – entering China is no easy feat. As the middle-class grows, so does competition in the market. Brands using social media sites such as WeChat have experienced a decline in consumer engagement as the market becomes increasingly saturated. In order to break through the noise, brands require a bespoke, considered marketing strategy that resonates with Chinese consumers.
A mistake that UK brands often make is assuming that Chinese shoppers are looking cheap or entry-level products, but that stereotype no longer holds. In fact, Chinese consumers are as sophisticated as the West, if not more so it comes to using digital platforms. As a result, Chinese brands are way ahead in terms of technology and digital innovation, and these shopping experiences – be it online-to-offline (O2O) commerce or retail storefronts on Alibaba's Tmall platform – have become normal for Chinese consumers. If UK brands do not take this into consideration, and if they aren't able to innovate at the same pace, they will face an uphill struggle in the Chinese market.
Ultimately, while the Chinese market is incredibly enticing for UK brands, success will not come easy. Brands would be naïve to think that it is as simple as listing and selling items in line with Singles Day. It is crucial to map out a long-term, digitally-focused marketing strategy unique to the Chinese consumer. If they can nail this, there is opportunity to prosper in the Chinese market, perhaps even in time for Singles Day 2019.
James Hebbert is UK managing director of Chinese and UK creative digital marketing and media agency Hylink.