Pakistan should embrace Singles Day

World pays close attention to China since the 19th CPC convention to boost Chinese national consumption. It’s an important and significant proposition for the world to have an understanding of China’s development in historical and future-oriented perspective. Reports by overseas media, think tanks and international seminars held in China continuously point to new development opportunities in China in a new era and in an economy where domestic consumption in China is growing at an unprecedented pace. From our perspective what this means is that while the Pakistani businesses increasingly feel threatened by the floodgates that may be opened with the culmination of CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) for Chinese goods, whereby, they easily finding their way in our domestic markets, our entrepreneurs at the same time should also look at the flip side: surely there must also be some positives for them to consider with this growing economic connectivity between the two countries. The obvious negation to this concern being that China’s population is nearly 5 times that of Pakistan and with its ever growing domestic consumption, if somehow the Pak government can play its roll in encouraging Pakistani companies to find a foothold in the Chinese markets the dividends could be colossal. For example, to start with the annual ‘Singles Day’ shopping event in China is becoming a big thing and it is about time that our companies also embrace it. The latest, Singles Day on November 11, 2017 – China’s annual shopping frenzy – has again confounded many with a new record of sales. Beating last year’s incredible $17.8 billion sales total, this time the Singles day saw sales climb to a whopping $25.4 billion. Pakistani retailers and manufacturers need to not just take a closer look at this event and the ever increasing ‘Singles Day’ spending spree across Chinese mainland, but should also take note of the continued changes this reflects as China moves toward a consumption-led economy.

Easier said than done, because for our local companies to find an initial foothold they will need their government’s support; at least in the beginning. While the high-tech consumption (smartphones and related gadgets to high-fashion brands, etc.) continues to lead the way, a big component also consisted of sports-goods, basic men’s and ladies ware and even agricultural produce, and this where we stand a good chance. The main bottleneck is in getting retailing approvals from the Chinese bureaucracy, which can not only be a tedious, lengthy and an expensive process, but can often prove to be too big a task for the small and medium sized concerns (SMEs). Also, nearly 9 out of 10 purchases are completed via use of mobile devices – reflecting a recent change in the nature of Chinese consumer behavior – and for this the companies need to establish their own online presence in the local language; something where SMEs would again initially need state’s help. It is noteworthy that even though the overall presence this year was again dominated by the European, Japanese, ASEAN and US companies, there was however this time a strong representation by companies from India, Vietnam, South Africa, Brazil and Bangladesh. Sadly, there was not even a single Pakistani company that took part in this year’s Singles Day event.

So exactly how should the Pakistani companies go about accessing the Singles Day event? To start with it is important to know that the Chinese conglomerate Alibaba, whose sprawling business empire now extends far beyond online shopping, remains the main participant of this event and through its Tmall and Tmall-Global platforms serves as the principal conduit for participation of foreign firms. Obviously, this should be the first calling point for the Pakistani companies as well, in making use of the available Alibaba platforms to market their products to the Chinese companies. In 2015, household UK brands Sainsbury and House of Fraser both launched on Tmall and in 2016, fashion retailer Topshop and the German cash-and-carry chain Metro followed suit. In addition, the aspirant companies will do well by carefully collaborating with other selected Chinese e-commerce players. For example, this year the online beauty retailer Feelunique created an even bigger buzz compared with previous years by using 4 relatively smaller e-commerce players, in addition to of course using Alibaba. This multi-platform campaign provided them with significant additional credibility in the minds of Chinese consumers. The Bangladeshi companies also used a similar model of collaboration for their launch.

Further, the Pakistani retailers should be aware of the extended time period over which the Singles Day is now scheduled to take place. The three days period – Nov 9 to 11 – over which the event took place last year was this year extended to seven days – Nov 6 to12. Also, in addition to social media campaigns, Singles Day this year attracted a record number of bloggers and key opinion makers, something that Pakistani companies will need to understand in order to ensure to be on their right side, since (especially in China) these modern marketing messengers are replacing the traditional stars of stage, screen and sport. Finally, the current exchange rates between the Chinese Yuan and the Pakistani rupee should also be an incentive for the Pakistani companies to look at the Chinese markets, as the rupee has never been lower than its current parity with the Yuan, which means added competitiveness for our products. Coming November 2018, one hopes that Pakistani companies can at least start to formally mark their presence at the next Chinese Single Day event.

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