Singles Day is not just for China anymore

Key Points
  • Southeast Asian e-commerce platform Lazada has invested heavily into marketing for Singles Day and saw growth of 171 percent from last year
  • The Alibaba-backed platform threw a massive TV event in Thailand, counting down to the beginning of online shopping sales
  • Smaller businesses also seized Singles Day as an opportunity to promote deals
Workers distribute express parcels at a logistics centre of China Post during Alibaba Group's Singles' Day global shopping festival on November 11, 2016 in Ganyu, China. 
VCG | Getty Images

Singles Day has become the world's largest shopping event as Alibaba announced its sales hit $25.4 billion this weekend. The figure not only surpassed the Chinese e-commerce giant's own record, but is also topped Black Friday and Cyber Monday U.S. sales combined.

But Singles Day, marked on Nov. 11, is not just for the Chinese anymore.

Lazada, Southeast Asia's e-commerce platform backed by Alibaba, pushed Singles Day aggressively in the region.

This year, the event generated $123 million of gross merchandise value for Lazada, representing a 171 percent increase since last year's Singles Day. Shoppers on the company's Southeast Asian marketplaces ordered 6.5 million items, which was 191 percent more than last year.

Popular items included electronics, diapers and women's fashion items.

In Thailand, Lazada hosted a massive televised gala with celebrities counting down until the shopping deals began at midnight. The program aired online and on one of Thailand's most popular television channels.

In Singapore, Lazada partnered with Expedia to sponsor a trip to NASA facilities in Florida in an effort to promote the sales.

"Our key success metric is how engaged everyone has been during the day," Aimone Ripa di Meana, Lazada's chief marketplace officer and co-founder, told CNBC.

"Campaigns happen throughout the year, but this is really the one we have invested the most in and we're creating an engagement and a buzz that is absolutely unique," he added, addressing the saturation of other promotional days like Oct. 10, Dec. 12, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

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Lazada worked with many of its existing partners, including P&G, Unilever, L'Oreal and Samsung leading up to the event. But the company also sees the event as an opportunity for newcomers, too.

For one, MLAB Holdings, which distributes Sweden-designed Happy Socks into Southeast Asia, ordered 20 to 30 percent more stock in anticipation of Singles Day, according to Mack Chua the company's managing director. Chua, who ran a "buy one, get one free" promotion during the event, said he had only been selling on Lazada for several months.

Following the event, he told CNBC that he sold fives times the amount of socks than the previous Saturday — but the overall sales actually came in less than what he'd expected. "Sales were okay, but we will consolidate our products for Cyber Monday and Black Friday," he said.

Singles Day wasn't only limited to Lazada's ecosystem — other e-commerce ventures seized the opportunity.

One such business was Covetella, a dress rental start-up based in Singapore, which ran an email campaign proclaiming "Happy Singles Day!"

"We knew people would be on the lookout for deals," said Carol Chen, founder and CEO of Covetella. "Our business is heavily event-oriented so we also wanted to give women an excuse to dress up and treat themselves just because."

Chen said the click-through rate on the company's email promotion was higher than normal.

"Part of our mission behind Covetella is to help people celebrate life, so I like the idea of Singles Day as a another occasion and excuse to dress up and enjoy yourself," she added.