In this guest post, GlobalWebIndex's Felim McGrath shares his thoughts on the e-commerce phenomenon of Singles' Day. 

Singles Day, on 11 November, started life as a Chinese celebration day for singletons, but has become a major online shopping event, similar to Black Friday. Last year, the driving force behind this, Alibaba, claimed to have processed £9.4billion worth of sales in only 24 hours. And as this year’s event has been expanded to cover 24 days of shopping, we can expect even more hype (and revenue) surrounding the occasion. But more than anything, this frenzy of online shopping highlights the increasing importance of the smartphone in the online purchase journey and why the device could rapidly become the primary e-commerce device for consumers.

China’s love of e-commerce is obvious from GlobalWebIndex’s research. 88% of internet users there shop online, rising to 92% among the 25-34s (the exact demographic that Alibaba has targeted with Singles’ Day). And it’s m-commerce - mobile shopping - that is key here. Chinese digital consumers are now more likely to shop through their mobile than use a PC or laptop to complete their purchases. We’ve also seen mobiles take pole position in Thailand, and figures not far off computers in many other Asian markets.

GlobalWebIndex - Oct 16 - Singles’ Day Proves The Power M-CommerceThis trend is a clear reflection of the central importance of the smartphone to the online activities of consumers in APAC. Over 50% of internet users in the region say their mobile is their most important device; and time spent online via mobiles in the region is rapidly reaching the figures posted by all other devices combined. So it’s no wonder that our research shows that smartphones have become a crucial part of the entire purchase journey of digital consumers. In China, for example, 1 in 5 say that they are discovering new brands from in-app ads; and mobile apps are now a more important product research channel than price comparison sites or brand websites. With so many online commerce activities taking place within the mobile sphere, Alibaba’s claim that 68% of its Singles’ Day’s sales were made on mobile makes perfect sense.

But this isn’t a trend that we should think will be forever confined to Asia. In Europe, for example, young consumers are now most likely to identify their smartphones as their most important device, and the daily time spent online via mobiles continues to rise each year.

A key influence on the rise of m-commerce in Europe and North America could be the rise of chat bots. In China, these useful assistants have been helping brands connect with consumers for some time, and after Facebook announced it would be building out chatbot functionality on Messenger, a number of consumer chatbots have been launched already. With the consent of the consumer, chatbots could engage users on a 1:1 basis in a non-intrusive and relevant manner, all in an environment out of reach of the ad-blocking software that threatens to disrupt so much of the brand-consumer relationship. And by offering a smooth path to purchase using integrated commerce options, these bots could forge a path for the rise of m-commerce in the West.