Guest Columnist

John Richard Schrock

China’s “Black Friday” sale was Nov. 11


The U.S. “Black Friday” appears to have started back in 1961 when Philadelphia police described the heavy commercial traffic that followed the Thanksgiving holiday. Businesses began using the term in offering special discounts on that day and it became a nationwide promotion effort by 2003–2004. Because some folks couldn’t shop during that day, or didn’t find what they were shopping for, the National Retail Federation invented Cyber Monday (that followed Black Friday) in 2005. However, Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. Commonwealth countries had long observed Boxing Day and related sales events.

However, Alibaba (China’s equivalent of Amazon) launched a similar shopping day on Nov. 11, 2009, a date that is “11/11.” Double 11 was also an informal “Singles Day” celebrating being single, although its overriding meaning for consumers is now “bargain day.” China has dramatically expanded e-commerce and its major suppliers offer their greatest discounts on this day. Similar to U.S. companies offering pre-Black Friday discounts, China has also seen pre-sales discounts starting earlier on Oct. 20.

Well before the pandemic, China moved more rapidly into purchasing products online. There are several reasons that China has leapfrogged Western countries in online commerce. Nearly every Chinese citizen, aside from infants, has a mobile phone. In addition, the apps on their phones included instant payment systems, most popular being WeChat and AliPay. While such automatic payment systems have now been common in China for over a decade, only now are such apps becoming common in the U.S. and Europe, with Europe slightly ahead of us.

A second advantage is their system of fast package delivery (kuài dí). In the United States, we rely on the U.S. Postal Service, United Parcel Service (UPS) and Federal Express. Our postal service maintains regular delivery routes. But the two others are big truck services that have to spend substantial fuel delivering one box to the south side of town and another to the north, resulting in the need to cover a lot of territory for relatively few deliveries.

In China, the package delivery system is parceled into small motorized tricycle-box units or very small vans. They only cover a very limited area. There are enough packages sent to a city block each day that it can fill up the capacity of the small trailer. They schedule delivery at a time when everyone will be home. The customer’s cell phone number is integral to the packaging. The driver calls up or text messages when they arrive at the building, alerting the residents to come down and pick up their packages which are laid out in an orderly fashion alongside the sidewalk or in a parking stall. Package labels contain the cell phone numbers and information that must match the person who comes to pick it up.

At universities, the boxes may be laid out in designated lots or to the side of the campus store entrances when there is not enough room in front of the dormitories.

Now each Nov. 11, all of the businesses in China offering online products try to offer the best bargains possible. The country goes crazy buying really good deals. The result is that the fast package delivery system uses every vehicle and works overtime.

On campuses, the students stream down from classrooms and dormitories to pick up their bargain products. Students open them immediately and discard the packaging in waste cans deliberately placed nearby the delivery area. But these trash cans rarely overflow. The grandparents and other elderly folks, usually men, loiter to collect the cardboard and wrapping paper. After folding it up to take the least space, they bicycle off with the packaging securely strapped, heading to their local recycle station.

For many online businesses in both the United States and China, the volume of sales during these events is usually the point in the calendar year where businesses move from the red into the black for total yearly profits.