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Editorial - Lessons from China’s Singles Day

Editorial Lessons from China’s Singles Day

Alibaba set a new 24-hour sales record of over 30 billion US dollars, which is more than the entire Swiss watch industry's exports for an entire year. But beyond the impressive figures, there are some lessons to be learned from the company.

Black Friday offers have long since crossed the pond and been taken up even in Switzerland’s highly conservative retail environment. Clothes retailer PKZ, for example, offered a 10% reduction across its site. In the watch world, Maurice Lacroix had considerably more appealing offers on its watches, with some on sale at less than a third of their standard retail price, much to the delight of one WorldTempus reader, who bought  two of them on Black Friday (see the comment at the bottom of this article).

But as US website Forbes pointed out, even in its home country of the United States, Black Friday is a mere “rounding error” compared to the festival of consumerism that is Singles Day in China. Although online sales in the US over the Thanksgiving weekend set new records, generating 24.2 billion dollars (according to Adobe Analytics cited by the Associated Press) Alibaba raked in over 30 billion dollars in a single day

Can watch brands continue to defend a bricks-and-mortar-only business model in light of such figures? Given the steady flow of announcements that watch brand X is a new partner of online platform Y, or that watch brand A has opened a new online store, often enticing customers with exclusive editions that are only available online, it would appear not. With high-ticket brands like Roger Dubuis now present with exclusive watches on Mr Porter, there seems little point in trying to argue that customers will not spend tens or even hundreds of thousands on a watch online. And those who are already late to the party also need to consider being “mobile first”, since more than half of the site visits on Cyber Monday came from mobile devices and accounted for just over a third of the total revenue.

So there is plenty of food for thought for watch brands who are still weighing up their online sales strategy. But my biggest takeaway from last weekend is not the record-breaking figures, nor the online sales growth, nor the shift to mobile. It is the video that Alibaba used to promote Singles Day, which featured the company’s CEO Jack Ma (who is already known for his humble and down-to-earth nature), taking on the company’s employees in a series of challenges that ranged from packing parcels to wrapping up live crabs. It was a wonderful example of a company simultaneously showcasing the diverse talent both of its staff and of a CEO who is keen to be seen understanding what his employees do, all with a welcome touch of humour and self-deprecation. How many CEOs in the watch industry could – and would – do the same?