In years to come, Singles’ Day might feature The Tmall Tearooms. An ‘Olde Sweet Shoppe’, and ‘Hosier & Draper’ could be among shopkeepers. Buyers would have to queue online.
It would be a Very British Way of Shopping.
Here’s the basis of this prediction. The 10th edition of Singles’ Day has just passed. The turn of a decade usually brings celebration but the big Singles’ Day is next year – edition number 11 of 11.11.
And it will likely be the first Singles’ Day after Brexit.
Singles’ Day, lest you didn’t notice, is China’s annual shopping super-binge on 11th November, and is so called because the strokes of the date, 11.11, look like lonely figures.
It began in a mainland university, as one-measure of solace to three-measures of party for unattached young men. It flourished – and spread through dorms across the country but it wasn’t until e-commerce titan, Alibaba, started developing it in 2009, promoting it on its Tmall platform, that Singles’ Day was on its way to becoming the biggest shopping event in the world. This year, US$30.8 billion of sales took place over 24 hours.
Yet the day is not well known outside China. Did you, British scroller, do any Singles’ Day bargain-hunting? And, hey, Euro-swiper, any Singles’ Day offers in your inbox?
In the UK, Black Friday might be seen as the retail precedent. Black Friday, coming up on November 23, was an alien shopping event no one had heard of, and which has never quite taken off.
Singles’ Day’s fate might have been the same: an obscure import. And slightly awkward. Do I really want to go with the girls to a Singles’ Day spa package? Sure, it might sound feminist to mark a day that doesn’t revere being linked with a man, but it’s from mainland China. That undermines its feminist cred. Will they keep a single file on me?
Shopper, Singles’ Day is different. Singles’ Day, ironically, could be the perfect partnership for post-Brexit Britain.
You see, Alibaba’s strategy going forward is to move Singles’ Day out of China and attract more international singles’ action. But it’s not just targeting consumers.
Jack Ma, entrepreneur and founder of Alibaba, last year went to to Detroit, Michigan, seeking to persuade American ‘Mom and Pop’ stores to sell on Tmall.
US-China trade tensions scuppered that plan, Ma said recently. But after Brexit, Britain needs to look to China. And the British equivalent of the ‘Mom and Pop’ store is the traditional high street shopkeeper: the grocer and fruiterer, the haberdasher, the fishing tackle maker, the purveyor of scones.
Britain’s high streets are under threat, with thousands of shops closing down. So why don’t British shopkeepers sell to China on Tmall on Singles’ Day? They could thrive in Chinese cyberspace. Old favourites would become more Chinese, by necessity. Lychee scones. Green Afternoon Tea. As for sweets of yore, Mint Imperials are a bit redolent of the British Empire, so why not reference Chinese expansion plans? Mint Belt and Roads. Spangles are fine – they sound like sequins.
Ok, that doesn’t leave high streets in place in UK towns. But think. The Chinese love British-made TV like Downton Abbey. And Chinese tourists flock to Bicester outlet village in the U.K. Why shouldn’t they head to British high streets where they have shopped, in their billions, online? Copies of Austrian, Italian and Swiss town have been constructed in China. Replicas of traditional old British high streets could be built exactly where they once were and Chinese tourists will come shopping. The British High Street will be back. In a single stroke.