Single’s Day advance sales stats: are China’s women chasing “sleep satiety”?

88% of Chinese women are buying imported sleep aids, vs 11% of men.
China Market Research: Ecommerce Apps Usability

The run-up to Single’s Day – China’s “Black Friday” equivalent, which takes place annually on November 11 – is ramping up, and online e-commerce platforms are releasing the first batch of pre-sale numbers.

Among the statistical anomalies reported by TMall Global in the pre-sale period from October 21-31 was a jump in purchases of imported sleep aids, which increased 174% percent year-on-year. Buyers scooped up Melatonin capsules, steaming eye masks, latex sleeping pillows and earplugs. Scented sleeping sprays, too, have been a surprise hit over the last 12 months. TMall’s research team calls the trend a search for “sleep satiety” – the desire for a deeper, more complete night’s rest.

Though it’s tempting to draw conclusions about what that means in terms of anxiety, modernization, and wellness, the bump is probably less indicative of a major change in national sleeping patterns, and more indicative of Alibaba’s massive push to drive online purchases of imported products across the board.

In November last year, Alibaba Group vowed to import a total of USD 200 billion, partly to bolster its own long-term growth strategy, and partly to support the central government’s cross-border e-commerce initiatives (Nikkei):

Alibaba will buy $40 billion worth of imported goods a year under the plan, or more than 5% of the value of all goods sold through its marketplaces last year, including domestic products, which totaled $768 billion.

[Alibaba’s] announcement comes one day after President Xi Jinping encouraged cross-border trade at the expo’s opening ceremony. “We will take further steps to lower tariffs, facilitate customs clearance, reduce institutional costs in imports, and step up cross-border e-commerce and other new forms and models of business,” the president said.

TMall’s report also makes a fuss over another statistical outlier: a 434% bump in sleep aid purchases from buyers born in the year 2000 or later; but we find this jump equally uninteresting — Gen-00s are now entering their first or second year of college, and we’re likely to see big statistical shifts for this user market over the next 4 years as they come into their own as consumers and adults.

What can’t be so easily explained away, however, is the crazy gender breakdown of sleep aid purchasers: 88% of buyers are women.

China Market Research: Ecommerce Apps Usability
Photo source: Huanqiu Tech / TMall Global

It wouldn’t be bizarre to find out that China’s women are more prone to sleeping problems: the gender disparity seems to hold true for western countries as well. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show that 57% women experience insomnia vs. 51% of men. In the UK, some studies put it at 54% of women vs 41% of men.

But 88% vs. 12% is a big gap, something else is at play here. We don’t have answers, only theories, but :

  • Maybe the meteoric rise of obesity in China is leading more women to seek out solutions to expanding waistlines, including getting a better night’s rest
  • Maybe the majority of existing sleep aids are either gender-neutral or specifically women-targeted: floral-scented sprays, cutesy cartoon eye masks, and spa-style relaxation products may be more attractive to female buyers
  • Maybe the existing male-targeted sleep aids are poorly marketed, ignoring China’s sleepless youth in favor of senior insomniacs

Whatever the reason, the disparity may point to an immature market on the verge of explosive growth. That’s particularly true considering the rapid growth of the non-medical sleep-aid market globally — generating $69.5 billion in 2017 and “on track to hit $101.9 billion by 2023”.

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