By Mark Richards.

Today is the start of the ‘Black Friday’ shopping bonanza. But how does Black Friday in the West compare to Singles’ Day in China? And what products are likely to be at the top of our shopping list over the next 11 days?

Like millions of other people in the UK, I woke up to an e-mail from Amazon this morning: the Black Friday Sale has arrived.

Blearily I clicked on the link. The first item I saw – I hope yours was more exciting – was an Oral-B toothbrush reduced from £299.99 to £94.99. Well, I am going to spend the weekend wondering how anyone can possibly pay three hundred quid for a toothbrush. But what I am also going to do is spend plenty of time going back to Amazon to see what other deals are available. There is a very real possibility that the man who used to rush around the shops on Christmas Eve may have the bulk of his Christmas shopping finished by the time the Black Friday sale ends on November 25th.

Black Friday lasts for ten days

Yes, Black Friday – which technically is next Friday – lasts for ten days, and it will be followed by Cyber Monday on November 26th. At this rate, not many of us will have any money left by December…

But never mind Black Friday, we have already had one major shopping bonanza in November – Singles’ Day in China.

Yes, last Sunday, while the UK stood silently remembering the Armistice and ‘the brave lads who sleep in Flanders fields,’ the Chinese went shopping.

Singles’ Day

Singles’ Day – or Guanggun Jie – originated at Nanking University in 1993 when four single men discussed how they could break out of the monotony of being single. They picked November 11th because the date 1-1-1-1 looked like four ‘single sticks.’ (Although, irritatingly it is now also a very popular day to get married, with 4,000 couples getting married on Singles Day 2011 just in Beijing.)

Over the years Singles’ Day has developed into the biggest online and offline shopping day in the world. In 2017 customers of Alibaba (China’s equivalent of Amazon) spent $25.4bn (£20bn), but this year they broke all records as they spent a mind-numbing billion dollars (around £785m) in just 85 seconds on Alibaba.

Alibaba went on to take $30bn (£23.6bn) in a 24 hour period, comfortably eclipsing the previous year. The total number of deliveries resulting from the day was 1.04bn – making the average spend quite low at just under $30 (£23).

Although this was a record, it was the lowest year-on-year rate of growth, with observers suggesting that the rate of growth is likely to slow further as the event becomes more ‘mature.’ But throw in the 11-day shopping ‘festival’ on Alibaba rival – which took $19.1bn (£15bn) last year – and the numbers become eye-watering. What can we in the West do to compete?

How do we compare with China?

The Great Shop-Off: Black Friday vs. Singles Day

Last year we Brits spent a frankly disappointing £2.5bn over the Black Friday period, while in the US it was estimated that sales were around $8bn (£6.3bn) for Black Friday with another $6.6bn (£5.2bn) on Cyber Monday, leaving the West trailing well behind China.

No doubt 2018 will be another ‘record year’ with wages now finally rising faster than inflation in the UK and jobs having been consistently added through the year in the US – but we are never going to surpass the Chinese spending.

What are we likely to see this year on Black Friday?

It is interesting to speculate on what products are likely to be popular: last year it was iPads and ‘high-end speakers’ as online shopping inevitably eclipsed high street sales. That trend will certainly continue this year and a disappointing Black Friday combined with poor performance over Christmas could see more high street retailers closing their doors.

What products and brands can we expect to see online? Among the brands, expect Chinese brand Huawei (pronounced ‘Wah-way’) to feature prominently as it looks to build market share and brand awareness in the West. Although it is best known for phones, Huawei also makes fitness trackers and watches and you can expect to see consistent discounts on these products throughout the Black Friday period.

There will be plenty of smart TVs and Chrome books discounted, and Amazon will also be pushing its own products – expect the Kindle and the virtual assistant Alexa to feature heavily. Devices to control your home – such as the Hive – will also be well promoted and I am delighted to see that Amazon still thinks I have young children. I will pass on the Lego, though, and somehow I am not too excited at the thought of dishwasher tablets.

Regular readers know my views on the usefulness of Alexa – the Echo dot is down to £24 – but I am delighted to say that a man in San Antonio has finally found a perfect use for her…

The other certainty, of course, is that Black Friday will be good news for Amazon. Globally, 60% of Black Friday deals last year were on Amazon. That is a quite staggering figure. Of every five purchases made, three were from Amazon. The rest of the world’s retailers fought over the other two.

Shopping? Or snooping?

But let me leave you, though, with what might be a rather more sinister aspect of Singles’ Day and Black Friday. Singles’ Day is not just Alibaba’s biggest shopping day, it is also their biggest data collection day. Taobao, Alibaba’s online shopping site, collected data from 600m people on Singles’ Day: what pages they visited, what they bought and what they browsed. Alibaba says it collects the data to ‘give a better shopping experience.’ But it also shares that data with other ‘partner companies’ – and with the Chinese government moving rapidly towards giving all citizens a ‘social credit score,’ looking at those adult video games may not have been such a good idea.

Will that happen here? If you read dystopian fiction it is inevitable – so let us just hope my decision not to buy an electric toothbrush has not hit my social credit too hard…