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, or Double 11 as it's also known, to become the largest online shopping day in the world—by quite some margin.

Key Takeaways

  • Singles' Day is a holiday celebrated by unmarried people in China on November 11.
  • The idea originated at China's Nanjing University back in 1993 as a sort of anti-Valentine's Day.
  • Singles’ Day has since spread to various other parts of the globe.
  • Retailers, beginning with Alibaba, have used the occasion as a platform to generate more sales.

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. According to one theory, it all started when four single male students of Nanjing University's Mingcaowuzhu dorm 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.

Ironically, 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 in 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.

Retailers Cash In

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 offered deeply discounted merchandise on its platform for 24 hours, starting at midnight on Nov. 11, 2009.

Since then, Singles' Day has become synonymous with spending, similar to the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the U.S. In 2020, Alibaba registered $74.1 billion worth of sales across its online platforms on Singles’ Day, representing nearly double the $38.4 billion of revenues generated the previous year.

Singles' Day, as its name implies, takes place on one day but retailers like Alibaba now offer discounts for longer than 24 hours to commemorate and cash in on the occasion.

Singles’ Day Shopping In the U.S.

Could Singles’ Day shopping habits spread to the United States? In 2019, American consumers spent $2.7 billion on Nov. 11, according to Adobe Analytics, 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," wrote Schreiner, who added that Amazon was able to create a shopping holiday in the U.S., Prime Day, because it chose a time during the year, July, when "there aren’t many other retail landmarks."

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

When Is Singles’ Day?

Singles’ Day in China—and now many other places in the world—takes place on Nov. 11. This date was chosen because 11/11 represents four ones, or four singles, standing together.

Is Singles’ Day Celebrated in the U.S.?

Kind of. Singles’ Day isn’t officially celebrated in America, although a growing number of retailers are promoting the occasion as a way to generate more sales.

How Do Singles’ Day Sales Figures Compare to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Prime Day?

In 2020, Alibaba registered $74.1 billion worth of sales across its online platforms on Singles’ Day. During that same year, Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday netted $9 billion, $5.2
billion, and $10.84 billion, respectively, in the U.S.