Things I’ve Learned from my Chinese Husband: Single’s Day (China’s Version of Black Friday) Can Be Cool

Christmas in China

My heart pounded as if it was only a few minutes to midnight on New Year’s Eve. Yet my only resolution revolved around the little black and white mobile phone in my hands and its Alibaba online shopping cart. Every single item in that cart represented hours of online “research”, scouring through reviews, search results and an often dizzying array of products with all of the seriousness prepping for finals. My husband and I took turns combing through Alibaba’s Tmall marketplace. Then we discussed strategy. Should we go for everything at once? Would pressing the purchase button at midnight – putting us virtually neck and neck with millions of online shoppers at the same moment – lock us out? What were my chances of snagging that 100 percent wool Metersbonwe red sweater with only two in my size?

Of course, in these last few minutes to the big moment, I couldn’t help but giggle at the ridiculousness of it all. I was on the cusp of spending my way into the world’s biggest shopping day ever – me, the woman who had always sworn off Black Friday.

Ah Black Friday, how I loathed you – and scorned the people who dared to chase after your bargains. I always pointed to news stories of nameless Black Friday shoppers fighting over flat-screen TVs or Elmo dolls as proof of everything wrong with the holiday. See, that’s what you get when you go elbow to elbow with millions of shoppers at once.

(Famous last words.)

So what changed? What lured me into the dark side of holiday retail hoopla? One word: Taobao.

It’s China’s answer to eBay and Amazon, but on steroids. Even better, Taobao rolled out its own virtual mall in 2008, packed with official stores for every single brand I’ve ever loved in China and beyond – from Adidas to Zara. It’s all just a click away, and they ship straight to your door. Tmall fast became our best friend after we moved back to China in late 2013 for a very simple reason – we were based out in the countryside, without a car or any convenient means for getting to the supermarket. Tmall supermarket purchases over around US$14 came with free delivery, they were cheaper than the nearest supermarket in the county, and everything could arrive at your door in less than 24 hours. Even better, I could do it all from the comfort of my own bed (in my pajamas, of course). What’s not to love?

However, it wasn’t just Taobao that pushed me over the (retail) edge…it was also my husband. John is totally enamored with all things Taobao and online shopping – even more than me. Whenever I’m in need of anything here, his first response is always, “Let’s buy it online.” He considers the Tmall supermarket and its insanely fast delivery straight to your door as proof of just how magical China really is.

So when Tmall started promoting Double 11 (that’s Single’s Day to the rest of you) as China’s answer to Black Friday, John wanted in. He figured, why not make a few purchases that day? There are plenty of things we really need – like those vitamins we always buy online – and if we bought on Double 11, we might get a few good deals.

Of course, as much as I liked Tmall, I had my doubts. After all, I’d heard the reports of Double 11 shopping woes. Getting locked out of the system. Hot items that sold out within minutes. Waiting for weeks for stuff to arrive from overburdened express delivery companies. I asked John, “What if I can’t buy the down jacket I so desperately need, all because I didn’t press “buy” fast enough?”

He flashed me a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry. Just think of it as something for fun. And if we can’t get it, we’ll find you one later, I promise.”

Fun? The idea never even crossed my mind. And even though those images of Black Friday in the news looked nothing even close to fun, I had to remember that this was, after all, online shopping in the comfort of our home. We could do it from our mobile phones, dressed in our comfy robes and pajamas. That had to count for something.

Beyond all expectations, I found myself saying in return, “Okay, why not?”

That one simple statement set in motion all of those weeks of preparation leading up to those adrenaline filled final moments before midnight of November 11, where I couldn’t even help laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. Of how I had changed so much. Of how utterly silly I must have looked hunched over a mobile phone in my pajamas and that flowery salmon pink robe.

In the end, we managed to get everything on our list – even the soft 100 percent wool sweater that I swore would be impossible to buy. But maybe the best deal of all was a new perspective on holiday shopping.

So go ahead, call me contradictory. You still couldn’t get me to do Black Friday, but I’d gladly go for Double 11/ China’s Single’s Day. Maybe it’s Taobao, maybe it’s my husband, maybe it’s both. But whatever it is, my holiday shopping season will never be the same.

How do you feel about holiday shopping?

21 Replies to “Things I’ve Learned from my Chinese Husband: Single’s Day (China’s Version of Black Friday) Can Be Cool”

  1. There’s a huge difference between pushing a button in your PJs and physically battling stampeding shoppers.

    You could never, ever, get me out to stand in line at a store on a holiday. Seriously. Time is money and it’s not worth the hassle — although some Americans think Black Friday is “fun.”

    John’s idea of fun sounds way better.

    You’re going to do a follow up post with pictures of the sweater, right? 😉

  2. Shopping online on a holiday is definitely better than going to a physical store. Once I had the terrible idea of going to Carrefour the day before the Chinese New Year holidays started. I queued for an hour to pay.
    I didn’t participate in Double 11 this year or last year, though. I didn’t need anything 😉

  3. Last year I worked at a retailer and had a Black Friday shift, and also worked there from December to 1st of January. I had a night shift from 4 AM or something until 11 PM. From personal experience, late night is good for shopping, while its during the morning that things get very crazy. Also, when I worked there during the month of December, I was shocked at the crowds and money people spent on gifts and decorations for the infamous holiday. Really gave me a big appreciation of my background that I don’t have to deal with crowds and and long lines like others…

  4. Shopping of most kinds are my nemesis. I wouldn’t be able to sit in front of the laptop whole day just to buy a few things from a online shop In fact, anything more than 30 mins – either online or offline shop – will bored me, let alone pressing F5 on the computer all the time just to fight for few items.

    I do online shop occasionally for low value items or books, but getting stuff from Taobao et al are difficult especially when they don’t accept foreign credit cards and by the time you pay for the international shipment, you might as well get them from the local shop.

    Also, increasingly Hong Kong customs are confiscating suspected shipments for counterfeit products. I don’t blame them, but China online shops generally don’t have a good reputation with the Hongkies.

  5. I am not much of a shopper in the US, but go a little nuts when I’m overseas. I love to shop then! So I can totally see how you would be enthralled by all the shopping in China. Plus, if you need things for the winter, why not take advantage of a good deal?

  6. Buying something online is definitely different than buying it in a store. All the more if you want to buy it at a special bargain. Long time of preparation and then you need to be as fast as possible, and faster than anyone else.
    If you get everything you wanted, great. If not, it’ll get frustrating fast. 🙁

  7. This was so funny to read! I can totally relate to what you wrote!
    I am not a big fan of Black Friday. I find it crazy how people start physically fighting over items, but Chinas double 11 is something totally different!

    This year we didnt buy much. I only got cat food which I always get, but it was half prize! Most things we need werent on sale or better were on fake sale. If its Chinese things sometimes they pretend to have disount when in fact they are selling them for the same price. So we decided to wait till next months when delivery services have more time again 🙂

    But one is for sure, I couldnt live without Taobao! Especially here in this little corner of China…

    1. Thanks for sharing, Anna! Yeah, it is true that some stores have fake discounts. Still, it’s great to get good deals when you can. Fifty percent off your cat food is excellent! I love Tmall (Taobao mall) and can’t imagine life without it.

  8. My husband and I love checking out the deals and shopping on the Old Navy/Gap/Banana Republic site during for the Black Friday Sales.

    There is nothing like 11/11 in Taiwan. It is funny how that day is a crazy shopping day in China, but it is a day of remembrance in Canada.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Constance! Old Navy/Gap/Banana Republic are three of my favorite stores — you have good taste in shopping!

      It is funny about Double 11 being so big here. Even in the US, November 11 is a day of remembrance (Veteran’s Day).

  9. I’m really impressed with your preparation and success getting everything you wanted on Double Eleven. I’m thinking about Christmas shopping now. I wish I could figure out what to buy people. I often wander around the stores just to get ideas. If only I knew what to buy, then I could think about trying to get it on sale.

  10. There’s an enormous difference between pushing control button in your PJs and physically battling stampeding shoppers.I didn’t get involved in Double 11 this coming year or this past year, though. I didn’t need anything ???? I was shocked on the crowds and funds people invested in gifts and decorations for that infamous holiday. Really afflicted me with a big appreciation of my background that I don’t need to deal with crowds and and long lines like others…

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