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The pop up explosion in China


There’s been astounding growth in the technologies (and scale) of online and pop up retailing across China.

Online shopping sites and pop up stores are big business in China. No wait, I’ll re-phrase that… they’re massive business !

On 11th November, e-commerce giant Alibaba hosted their annual Singles Day extravaganza – a 24-hour online sale aimed mainly at Chinese customers, but also hugely popular internationally (anywhere with the internet…) Around 15 million products were promised, from more than 140,000 different brands* – including many (most ?) luxury and global labels.

Singles Day used to be a “tongue-in-cheek” festival for young Chinese nationals, to get together with friends and celebrate not being in a relationship… In 2009 Alibaba saw the opportunity to make it more of an experience, and use the exposure to boost sales and test their own technologies. Over the last 8 years it has become a phenomenon in its own right… a record-breaking and mind-boggling retail frenzy.

2 weeks prior to Singles Day 2017, Alibaba’s “business-to-consumer marketplace TMall opened 60 physical pop-up stores in 52 malls across 12 cities” – with more than 100 brands participating (including L’Oréal, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Lego)# The retailer also “outfitted nearly 100,000 of its Tmall stores across China with facial recognition technology to process payments”% and to display products’ “availability, customer reviews and more… the shopper can then scan the product’s QR code to buy…”#.

President of Alibaba Michael Evans was quoted saying “We’ve done lots of pop-up stores online, where brands launch one or two products to test them out. But it is the first time that we’ve done physical pop-up stores for Singles Day…We always test new retail concepts during Singles Day, and pop-up stores are good opportunities for brands to feature their products,” said Evans. “We want to monitor consumer interactions and (sales) results, and then decide if those retail ideas are something that we need to invest in more or something that we need to modify.”#

The results are in for this year’s Alibaba Singles Day… and they are astounding ! A record RMB168billion (US$25.3bn, £19.22bn) of sales were made – around 812 million orders and 1.5 billion payment transactions were processed in just 24 hours. At the height of the frenzy, an incredible 325,000 orders per second (!!!) were handled through the Alibaba backend.^

The US will have its version of an online sales day – Cyber Monday – on 27th November, and this week (14th November) it was Australia’s turn with Click Frenzy. At the time of writing this ‘post, no results had been published for Click Frenzy 2017 (but there were loads of complaints on their Facebook page… items not available or mysteriously removed from shopping carts mid-transaction…)

Back in China… an article on this week discussed a few pointers for international brands opening pop up shops – mostly the importance of engaging with customers by creating eye-catching displays (in prominent locations), using social media effectively (including incentives for sharing online) – and feeding the fans (providing food and drinks to draw in the crowds) There are some limitations to how and where you can pop-up in China though – laws control direct retailing by foreign brands, and restrict some pop ups to internal shops and malls (not built out on the streets)

Jing Daily says there’s been over 100 percent compound growth in pop ups since 2015… by 2020 it is estimated that China will have opened over 3,000 pop up stores, in around 10,000 medium to large-size shopping malls.

Those numbers might be impressive for physical pop ups – but they’re obviously not counting the Alibaba Singles Day stores !


* source : – Alibaba’s Singles Day lures more global brands

# source : – Alibaba tests 60 futuristic pop-up stores

% source : – Alibaba Singles Day 2017

^ source : – Alibaba touts new retail engagement


Singles Day -

Alibaba 2017 Singles Day -

L'Oreal - Tmall by Alibaba -

Miu Miu pop up Hong Kong -


images :,, L’Oreal Tmall by Alibaba, Miu Miu pop up



featured image : Alibaba pop-up stores –



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