With help from China’s Alibaba, U.S. retailers are hoping to lure affluent Chinese shoppers into the American Black Friday frenzy. Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Ann Taylor and American Apparel, among others, are partnering with Alibaba to promote Black Friday sales, accept online payments in Chinese currency and deliver packages across the world’s most populous country.
It's unclear how Chinese consumers are likely to respond to an American day of feverish buying centered on a set of Judeo-Christian holidays -- especially one that follows so closely after Nov. 11th's Singles' Day, China's biggest e-commerce shopping day by far. But most of the U.S. retailers involved say the effort to promote Black Friday in China is just an experiment.
Black Friday is "a concept that's been accepted by many European countries," said Walter Loeb, retail analyst and president of Loeb Associates. "The Chinese would like to have American-made, American-developed products. I think it will have great appeal in China."
In October, several American retailers signed on to Alibaba’s Alipay ePass service, which lets Chinese shoppers buy products on the U.S. stores’ websites and then manage payments and track packages. Alipay works like PayPal and processed almost half of China’s $887.7 billion in online payments last year, according to research firm iResearch. Alipay and Borderfree, a company that provides e-commerce platforms and specializes in international trade, are also helping the American retailers market their products to Chinese consumers.
“Although Black Friday is not a traditional shopping day in China, as consumers in China begin to have more exposure to U.S. retailers and can shop internationally using the familiar Alipay ePass service, Alipay believes that the time is right to introduce the holiday to Chinese online shoppers,” Alibaba says in a statement.
Chinese demand for U.S. brands has been steadily increasing for four to five years, since Alibaba began expanding rapidly and promoting itself in the U.S., Loeb said. He points to Gap Inc. as an example of an American retailer benefiting from Chinese demand. Gap sells through Alibaba, which takes a cut of sales.
So far, language, cultural and payment barriers have made it difficult for Chinese shoppers to buy from top U.S. retailers. Borderfree and Alipay hope to change that.
“With a quickly evolving consumer market and a growing base of sophisticated shoppers, China is a key part of our international e-commerce strategy,” Kent Anderson, president of Macys.com, said in a statement. “We see this pilot from Borderfree and Alipay as a compelling way to overcome barriers that have made breaking into this marketing particularly challenging, and provide consumers with a straightforward, localized shopping experience.”
Earlier this month, Alibaba racked up $9.3 billion in sales on the Chinese shopping holiday known as Singles’ Day, or Singles Awareness Day. The total is more than double the entire U.S. retail industry’s 2013 Black Friday and Cyber Monday online sales combined. The record Singles’ Day sales were helped in part by the company’s strategy to promote the holiday to international shoppers.