Make a date for Singles’ Day

This post originally appeared on the Join in China website.

Singles’ Day is coming, and no it’s not an anniversary invented by a PR flack to drum up interest in a dating app. It has everything to do with spending. Spending on a staggering scale. Occurring every year on 11 November, the event is a shopping bonanza bigger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday put together.

Known as “Double 11” in China, Singles’ Day was started in China in 2009 by online retail giant Alibaba, and was based on nationwide celebrations of singledom, hence 11.11 (ones/singles coming together) – and what better remedy than to spend cheaply and wildly on oneself?

In the few years since, the one-day shopping extravaganza has grown considerably. Last year, consumers on Alibaba spent a staggering 168.3 billion yuan (£18.5 billion) while rival reported sales of 127.1 billion yuan (£14 billion). Altogether that’s a whopping £32.5 billion – equivalent to two Crossrails, or a third of Jeff Bezos.

Singles’ Day is not just a China event. Big British brands participating in recent years have included Dyson, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, and an awkward-looking David Beckham. Last year, for example, Waitrose saw strong Chinese consumer interest in its mueslis and squeezable honey – which isn’t bad if you consider the struggles faced by Weetabix.

You too can get involved (but keep in mind, amidst the excitement, that Singles’ Day coincides with Armistice Day – a date with more sober connotations).

Fortunately, you don’t need to open an Asia presence. Here are three DIY cross-border options:

  1. Open a Tmall Global storefront. Tmall is a Chinese-language website for B2C online retail operated by Alibaba that features more than 70,000 international and Chinese brands. You will need to open an Alipay account to receive payment, as well as complete paperwork (this can be a fiddle, so speak to us if you need help).
  2. Set yourselves up through the Royal Mail Tmall Store, which has some 400 million registered users. Royal Mail will buy your products at an agreed price which covers logistics, duties, commission fees, translations and product listings. The one-off registration fee is £2,500.
  3. Launch a store on JD Worldwide,’s platform that is open to brands outside of China. While again there is paperwork involved (speak to us about how to navigate this), setting up a presence will undoubtedly become smoother for UK retailers in the years ahead. In 2018, pledged its support to British businesses, announcing it will commit to selling £2 billion of goods.

If you’re looking for a tailored solution for your business do talk to us it’s too late for this year but we can make a date for next Singles Day.

Internship places still available through British Council’s Generation UK – China programme

When I graduated many years ago, my options were limited. There was no social media. No smartphones. And certainly no hopping over to Asia for work experience (though I did apply – unsuccessfully – to Singapore Airlines. I’ve still not flown with them since).

Times have changed, and both students and graduates these days can apply for internships halfway around the world. What fun!

Places are still available on the British Council China’s two-month Generation UK – China internship, offered through its partnerships with CRCC Asia (Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen) and InterChina (Qingdao, Chengdu and Zhuhai).

Having been to all of these cities other than Zhuhai, I would say the latter option that includes Qingdao and Chengdu is the more interesting choice from a cultural and living perspective.

All placement fees, accommodation, travel insurance and airport pickup is covered by Generation UK – China funding, which is pretty amazing, and interns will also receive weekly Chinese language classes and take part in business/cultural activities.

It’s a heck of a start in anyone’s career, and certainly tops my call centre experience.

Anyone interested can apply through the British Council website.

UK and Japan, sorry, China, commit to tech during Strategic Dialogue

Jeremy Hunt did well to think of flowers and chocolate for his wife (‘Mrs H’) this week.

As many of us know, the new Foreign Secretary made an unfortunate slip of the tongue when meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing. We’ve all been there…though perhaps not before powerful statespeople.

More relevant, though not quite so fun, was the meatier stuff discussed during the 9th China-UK Strategic Dialogue. The two sides agreed to expand cooperation in new industries and new business ‘forms’ including artificial intelligence, green energy and the digital economy.

There’s been strong interest recently in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – an umbrella term that means all sorts of things that will likely change our lives, as had the smartphone and internet era previously. Both the UK and China, among other nations, are leading the way in this new wave of innovations and have complementary abilities.

So the message is increasingly clear: if you specialise in high-end stuff like AI, robotics and renewables, now’s your time – as demonstrated by February’s mega-deals between British and Chinese companies.

One of this year’s deals was with the world’s second biggest smartphone manufacturer, Huawei – a whopping £3 billion agreement. This week the Shenzhen-based manufacturer saw the arrival of 50 participants from the UK in its Seeds for the Future training programme.

The global programme, now in its third year, includes the involvement of STEM students from the UK’s leading universities, who will be in China for one month to gain work experience.