The original price of a product is 1,299 RMB (S$265), but you can have it at its presale price of 1,199 RMB; get 40 RMB off each of your 300 RMB purchases across different shops; shave 30 RMB off your minimum spend of 200 RMB; pay a deposit of 50 RMB and enjoy double the discount; get 20 RMB off 200 RMB worth of add-on deals…
So how much is the discount?
For the past two weeks, there has been an onslaught of advertisements on the 11 November Singles’ Day sales. Open any phone app and sales promotions pop up incessantly, as if reminding people that it is their loss if they do not make a purchase.
I was all geared up to contribute to the “domestic circulation” of China’s economy, but before I could make a purchase, my head hurt just by looking at the complicated discount rules. This is not shopping; this is mathematics!
Nothing comes easy — even Singles’ Day discounts
Here are just some of the many head-spinning discount modalities, just to name a few: play a virtual pet cat game on an e-commerce platform to win shopping vouchers; register to become a member then recommend three or more friends to do likewise to get discount vouchers; pay a deposit in advance and pay for the balance within a specific time to enjoy a lower presale price; combine receipts across participating stores and enjoy discounts after hitting a minimum spend; watch live streaming sales events and grab discount coupons; buy a specific product at specific times to enjoy special discounts. The list goes on.
While it may seem like the discounts are attractive and plentiful, actually buying a product at the advertised discounted price is no mean feat.
A gentle reminder from my Chinese friend is to never believe the final discounted price displayed on the product webpage. During the first round of Singles’ Day presales in end October, she wanted to buy a blouse that was priced at 299 RMB after discount. She searched high and low for all sorts of discount vouchers that she could use but ultimately paid 50 RMB more than what was advertised. Indignant, she called up the customer service hotline only to find out that she needed to pay the balance between midnight and 2am on 1 November to enjoy the discount.
Now, the Singles’ Day sales is the examination hall of a mathematics olympiad...
The obscure discount modalities that come with a lot of fine print are leaving everyone befuddled. One sentence says it all, “Looking for a steal — not so easy!” No wonder even my friends who shopped and battled through various Singles’ Day sales previously are all lamenting that this year’s Singles’ Day sales are too taxing on the brain.
Some netizens jested that Singles’ Day sales of the past were a battle of the fastest fingers — the first person to complete the checkout process for their purchases by midnight on 11 November got the most discounts. Now, the Singles’ Day sales is the examination hall of a mathematics olympiad — not only do shoppers need to calculate the best way to enjoy the most benefits, but they also have to avoid falling into the marketing traps set by sellers. Some netizens also sarcastically remarked that instead of burning the midnight oil to combine receipts, grab discounts and pay the balance, they might as well put down their phones early and get some beauty sleep. That might be better for their complexion than using the skincare products bought during the Singles’ Day sales.
Complicated discount modalities are the hottest topic of discussion for this year’s Singles’ Day, and the authorities have also noticed. The official website of the China Consumers’ Association carries a reminder for consumers to take note of such promotional traps. CCTV also called on merchants to cut the gimmicks and show more sincerity in being more generous with benefits, and not to ambush people for profit.
...being able to navigate the complexities of Singles’ Day surely means Chinese brains work 50 times faster than Singaporeans’.
Complaints aside, Chinese netizens still love Singles’ Day shopping. Some people even collate all the discount modalities from major e-retail websites and post strategies for each one online. This Singles’ Day “feast” has become a game of wits and nerve between merchants and consumers. While merchants do all they can to come up with conditions for discounts to maximise profits, consumers roll with the punches and do all they can to maximise discounts.
Emblematic of the need to be ‘smart’ to survive in China
While describing these ridiculous discounts to my colleague in Singapore, I lamented that if one was not sharp enough, even a roll of toilet paper would cost a few dollars more. My colleague joked that Singles’ Day shopping is all about being smart — being able to navigate the complexities of Singles’ Day surely means Chinese brains work 50 times faster than Singaporeans’.
China is indeed a society that forces you to constantly use your brains almost every moment in daily life. For instance, one has to be appropriately tactful and not blunt when speaking; when listening to others speak, one also has to analyse if there is some unspoken message between the lines. The Chinese call having a meal together fan ju (饭局, literally “rice situation/setting”). The word “setting” is a study in itself: the guests, seating, topics of conversation, invitations to drink, etc — everything has its own protocol. Seemingly simple drinks and toasts over a meal are a test of etiquette and worldly wisdom.
There is also a saying that no couple cannot be separated; there are only third wheels who don’t work hard enough. If even third wheels are working hard, how can one not think about managing family and marriage?
Exchanging gifts also takes some brain work — how much a gift should cost or how much to put in a red packet so that one does not lose face (without one’s pocket bleeding) and the recipient does not feel burdened. Relationships between couples and education for children take a lot of effort; even buying a house as an investment calls for thinking of ways to first get divorced so as to beat state regulations on house ownership.
In China, one who does not know how to strategise is an “honest person”, which is equivalent to being “incompetent”. Such an environment exists because intense competition is all-pervasive in China. The rapidly moving society will not slow down for anyone. When new technology comes, you have to embrace it or face obstacles just paying for purchases; when a “new wave” arrives, you have to quickly master new skills and think of ways to upgrade yourself or get left behind by the industry. There is also a saying that no couple cannot be separated; there are only third wheels who don’t work hard enough. If even third wheels are working hard, how can one not think about managing family and marriage?
Compared to all this, Singles’ Day is small potatoes to the Chinese. In such an environment, it is tough not to be smart; and if one is not smart, then one really has it tough.
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