What is Singles' Day?

Singles' Day is a holiday celebrated in China on November 11. Unmarried people commemorate the occasion by treating themselves to gifts and presents, leading Singles' Day to become the largest online shopping day in the world, by quite some margin.

Understanding Singles' Day

Singles' Day always falls on November 11 because the date 11/11 represents four ones, or four singles, standing together. The name literally translates as "single sticks holiday."

Originally called "Bachelor's Day," the celebration began among students at China's Nanjing University around 1993 as a sort of anti-Valentine's Day. The most widely accepted theory is that four male students of Nanjing University's Mingcaowuzhu dorm ("all single men") discussed how they could break away from the monotony of having no significant other, and agreed that November 11 would be a day of events and celebrations in honor of being single. These activities spread through the university and eventually to other universities, appealing to both men and women—hence the name change.

Interestingly, Singles' Day now serves as an occasion for single people to meet, with parties and other social gatherings organized; it's a popular date for weddings as well. On the date, the Chinese media discusses and covers love-related issues and relationship topics.

Singles' Day has since caught on in other countries. It is now celebrated throughout Southeast Asia and some European countries, including Germany, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. Great Britain’s version was initiated by dating experts and falls on a different date: March 11.

Special Considerations

Although not an officially recognized public holiday in China, Singles' Day has become the largest online shopping day in the world. The holiday became a major commercial event in China during the first decade of the 21st century when Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba (BABA) offered deeply discounted merchandise on its platform for 24 hours, starting at midnight on Nov. 11, 2009.

Since then, Singles' Day has become a super shopping day, similar to the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the U.S. In 2019, Alibaba registered $38.4 billion worth of sales across its online platforms on Singles’ Day, representing a rate of 25% from the previous year's $30.8 billion.

Fast Fact: China’s Singles' Day is by far the biggest day for internet commerce, easily surpassing the combined sales tallies of both Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Could Singles’ Day shopping habits spread to the United States? According to Adobe Analytics, in 2019, American consumers spent $2.7 billion on Nov. 11, an increase of more than 38% over the prior year. However, Adobe blogger Taylor Schreiner believes competing holiday and shopping events in the U.S. make big growth for Singles' Day unlikely in America.

"Inserting a synthetic holiday around early-to-mid November (like Singles’ Day) in the U.S. would conflict with Veteran’s Day, as well as impact the way we celebrate Halloween," Schreiner writes, noting that "Amazon was able to create a shopping holiday (think: Prime Day in July) in the U.S. out of whole cloth, but it did so during a time of year when there aren’t many other retail landmarks."

That could be changing. When Nov. 11, 2020, actually dawned, website ShopStyle greeted its online customer list with "11 Must-Shop Single's Day Sales," featuring discounts from Nike, Macy's, Matches Fashion, and Saks Fifth Avenue, among other retailers. Stay tuned.