The opportunity in Singles’ Day (and other Chinese shopping festivals)

A new Chinese Canadian consumer survey by Vividata shines light on the cohort's habits during major shopping occasions.


Yesterday marked a new high for China’s Alibaba, which recorded a staggering US$38.3 billion in purchases during Singles’ Day, the 24-hour shopping period also known as “Double Eleven,” named after the date on which it falls.

Last year, sales amounted to US$30.7 billion – a slightly less impressive sum in comparison to 2019 figures, although a 27% increase from 2017. Amazon, meanwhile, reportedly raked in $7.16 billion globally during Amazon Prime Day in July – half of what the Chinese retailer made in its first hour yesterday.

Alibaba’s Singles’ Day sales were not confined to Chinese customers in China. Rather, as Bloomberg News reported, the event drew an estimated half-billion shoppers from Russia to Argentina.

What this means for Canada has remained, until recently, a relative mystery. A new survey of Chinese-Canadians promises to shed light on the cohort, including its engagement with the biggest shopping events of the year.

The first batch of data from Vividata’s inaugural Ethnicity Study: Insight into the Chinese Consumer survey becomes available tomorrow, and includes numbers on the segment’s buying patterns, media habits and attitudes across demographic indicators, such as age and income. Marketers have had access to similar data on Canadian consumers through Vividata’s Survey of the Canadian Consumer, says president and CEO Pat Pellegrini. But until recently, there has been a “major gap within the industry” when it comes to research on the ethnic consumer market.

The Ethnicity Study includes a survey of roughly 2,500 consumers age 18 and older who identify as being of Chinese origin, evenly split between Toronto and Vancouver markets. The survey sample includes those born in Canada, Canadian citizens not born in the country, permanent residents, international students, those doing an international co-op or on a temporary work permit, but excludes Chinese visitors to Canada.

“With the growing number of Chinese living, working and studying in Canada, the need to understand this consumer segment is of significant importance to Canadian marketers,” says Pellegrini.

The Chinese Canadian population was found to be on average wealthier than the general population, with 44% indicating they have a household income of $100,000 or more (compared to 32% of all Canadians). And they generally appear to over-index on their propensity for luxury goods. Among Chinese international students, 39% agreed with the statement, “I buy luxury brands to feel different than the rest of society,” and 40% of all Chinese consumers identified with wanting to choose a luxury automobile when given the choice.

The study identified two groups: (1) Chinese residents who are born in Canada, are citizens or permanent residents (PRs); and (2) international students. When it comes to participation in shopping events, the survey found a number of differences between those two groups.

More than half of the first group of Canadian-born, citizen and PRs noted that they shop for Christmas (58%), during Black Friday (53%) or during Boxing Week (51%). In order of popularity, those shopping occasions were followed by Cyber Monday (37%), back-to-school (30%), Valentine’s Day (27%) and Amazon Prime Day (27%).

The second group, Chinese international students, reported participating in these events as well. But, in most instances, a greater or equal number of Chinese students stated that they participate in events that originate in China than in North American shopping events like Prime Day or Valentine’s Day. The survey found 25% participate in Double Seventh Day – also known as the Qixi Festival, or Chinese Valentine’s Day – (versus 14% of other Chinese Canadians), 22% participate in Singles’ Day (versus 9%), 17% in the 618 Shopping Festival (versus 9%), 22% in Double Twelve (versus 8%) and 20% in 520 “I Love You Day” (versus 8%).


The demographic’s shopping habits during these occasions provide numerous opportunities for brands, Pellegrini says. “There are a number of shopping events that originate in China that the more recent Chinese residents to Canada would likely participate in, should brands market these events and offer deals targeting the Chinese population.”

In general, recent Chinese residents (and especially international students) also report paying more attention to advertising, perhaps because they are learning about brands they may have never heard of, according to Pellegrini. Marketers should bear in mind, however, that more recent residents agree that they are more likely to interact with or try products that advertise in their own ethnic language.

A guide to Chinese shopping events

Singles’ Day/Double Eleven: Created by a group of Chinese college students to celebrate single life (the 1s in the name represent a single person), Singles’ Day has evolved into one of the largest shopping events of the year. Sales on Alibaba, which turned the occasion into a shopping event in 2009, have grown to eclipse those seen during Amazon Prime Day.

Double Seventh Day: A traditional Chinese festival that’s also known as Chinese Valentine’s Day. It falls on the 7th day of the 7th Chinese lunar month, which was Aug. 7 this year and will be Aug. 25 next year, according to tourism website China Highlights.

618 Shopping Festival: A mid-year shopping festival, launched in 2010, that ran from June 1 through June 18 this year. This major online shopping festival is not only a boon to ecommerce players like Alibaba competitor (which created the event), but also serves to help platforms identify the trends that “could be valuable in molding their strategies in the second half of the year,” according to Technode. 

Double Twelve: Falling in mid-December, the festival “represents an opportunity to clear inventory left after Singles’ Day, and is an end-of-season promotional sale hosted primarily by, Alibaba and some other marketplaces,” according to CoresightResearch. Double Twelve lasts four days, from Dec. 8 and 12.

520 (“I Love You” Day): Short-form for May 20, 520 is considered a second Chinese Valentine’s Day. According to the website China Internet Watch, its may have its origins in the phonetic similarities between “520″ and “I love you” (or “Wo Ai Ni” in Mandarin).