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International Holidays and Festivals Could Mean Big Business for Online Retailers

International Holidays and Festivals Could Mean Big Business for Online Retailers
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Every retailer knows that holiday seasons are prime time for gift-giving. U.S. ecommerce merchants start preparations months in advance in order to offer shoppers special deals, gift coupons and free delivery before Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day or Father’s Day are also red-letter days, when retailers promote gifts for specific audiences.

Cross-border ecommerce opens up boundaries and enables retailers to reach potential consumers worldwide. Many savvy merchants have already learned to leverage sales by enabling local audiences worldwide to complete transactions using their own payment methods and native currency. 

A merchant who aspires to succeed in global markets should be aware that different countries or regions celebrate their own holidays and festivals when gifts are exchanged. While the U.S. and many European countries are poised to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s, there are additional holidays celebrated in three huge and yet-to-be-fully-tapped international markets that are worth exploring.

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1. Russia

  • New Year’s Eve and Orthodox Christmas, Dec. 31 and Jan. 7: For most Russians, the holiday season begins with New Year’s Eve on Dec. 31 and culminates on Jan. 7, the Russian Orthodox Christmas. Both New Year’s Eve and Christmas are usually marked by festive dinners with multiple courses. Family and friends generally exchange gifts on New Year’s Day rather than on Christmas Day, so you should plan your holiday campaign around that date.
  • Defender of the Motherland Day, Feb. 23: This holiday is a tribute to the Russian military, from modern-day soldiers serving in the Russian armed forces to veterans. The entire masculine population - from boys to old men - receives special greetings and presents. Traditionally, men are presented with cards, greetings, and gifts from women at home, in the workplace, and even on the street. Men are often given cologne, socks or other basic necessities, inspiring some Russian men to rename it “The All-Russian Day of Shaving Cream.” Intrepid global e-retailers could strike pay dirt if they come up with more interesting gifts for men at reasonable prices.
  • International Women's Day, March 8: International Women’s Day has been celebrated in Russia since 1913. This holiday is a unique synthesis of Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day celebrated in other countries, except for the fact that it honors all women -- mothers, sisters, teachers, grandmothers and others. As opposed to the one-on-one nature of Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day in other countries, in Russia this day is often commemorated with a dinner for family and friends cooked by the men in the family. In Russia, nobody arrives for a festive meal empty-handed, so this is another opportunity for the merchant to offer suitable gifts. The most popular gifts are flowers, accessories such as stationery and writing materials, chocolates, perfume and cosmetics. Bouquets are presented in odd numbers only, because an even number of flowers is reserved for cemeteries and funerals. 

2. China

  • Chinese New Year, Feb. 19: Cleaning house prior to the Chinese New Year is traditional in the Chinese culture. After giving the house what Westerners would call a spring cleaning, people go out on shopping sprees. The Chinese believe that with the advent of the New Year, their first action should be to buy new clothes and other goods. The purchase of new items is the Chinese way to launch a fresh start. Needless to say, e-retailers who study the market carefully and launch special offers at this time of year stand to profit.   
  • Lantern Festival, March 5: In contemporary China, this is the day when children venture out at night to temples, carrying paper lanterns. Riddles are pasted on to these colorful lanterns to challenge others to guess the right answer. Gifts are presented to the people who get the right answers. In the past, this was also the date of the Chinese Valentine's Day. Young girls were chaperoned when going out in the hope of finding love while watching the procession of lanterns. It was also considered a lucky day for lovers to meet. While most of China no longer commemorates this day with romantic gifts, in Hong Kong it is highly commercialized as the Chinese Valentine's Day. This is undoubtedly a good time to come out with an assortment of gifts.
  • Chinese Valentine’s Day, Aug. 20: Traditionally, Chinese Valentine’s Day, known as the Qixi Festival or the Double Seventh Day, was a time when women demonstrated their domestic skills. Some of the most common activities included threading a needle by moonlight and carving fruit. Many of the ancient customs are disappearing but can still be found in outlying areas. Modern-day Chinese Valentine's Day is celebrated by giving flowers, chocolates and other presents to loved ones similar to Western Valentine's Day. This is a perfect opportunity for merchants to offer attractive romantic gifts on their websites.
  • The Double Ninth Festival, Oct. 21: The Double Ninth (or Chongyang) Festival is thus named, because it is celebrated on the ninth day of the ninth month in the Lunar Calendar. According to Chinese astrology, nine is a yang character, which means masculine or positive, and chong is a Chinese word for double. The pronunciation of nine is similar to the word meaning forever, symbolizing longevity. This is the reason that the Chinese government set this date as Seniors' Day. In modern-day China, special activities are held to pay respect to the senior members of the population, including organizing special trips, sending them gifts and more. This is a golden opportunity (forgive the pun) for retailers to offer suitable gifts for the elderly population.
  • Single’s Day, Nov. 11: Single’s Day (or Guang Gun Jie) is in essence an Anti-Valentine’s day. It is a day of celebration for those living the single life. As gift-giving among singles has become one of the holiday's traditions, retailers offer special sales in what has become a 24-hour shopping event. In 2014, it took only one hour for Alibaba to reach a sales volume of $2 billion, so this is a great opportunity to sell a wide range of products suitable for young, tech-savvy adults.

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3. Brazil

  • Valentine’s Day, June 12: Brazil’s version of Valentine’s Day (Dia dos Namorados) is celebrated in June. This holiday honors Saint Anthony, the patron saint of matchmaking and marriages. On this day, couples exchange gifts such as chocolates or flowers. Take note of the date, and don’t wait for February to promote special Valentine offers on romantic gifts.  
  • Three Kings Day, Jan. 6: This is the date of the Epiphany on the church calendar, when the Magi arrived bearing gifts for baby Jesus. In Brazil and other areas of Latin America, children receive gifts on this day rather than on Dec. 25. This is an auspicious time for cross-border retailers active in Brazil to launch special offers on gifts and toys for children.
  • Children’s Day, Oct. 12: In Brazil, Children’s Day is celebrated on Oct. 12, coinciding with Our Lady of Aparecida’s day, which honors Brazil’s Patron Saint. Many children look forward to this day even more than Christmas. On this day, children receive presents from their parents and close relatives, making it another opportunity to promote children’s gifts.
  • Festa de Debutantes: Brazilians celebrate a girl’s transition from childhood to womanhood. This event is held on the Quinceañera, or 15th birthday. The festivities include food and music and often a choreographed waltz or dance performed by the Quinceanera in her ball gown. The family might give the birthday girl a tiara and scepter, signifying coming of age. In some Latin American cultures, a birthstone ring and bracelet are traditional gifts that represent femininity and responsibility. This festival is similar to Sweet Sixteen parties in the U.S., except that it often includes mass or a religious ceremony. Guests attending the elaborate party are expected to present gifts suitable for a young girl, such as jewelry, perfume or religious artifacts. Quinceañera is widely celebrated in Latin American countries, so cross-border websites in those regions offering special gifts for the occasion might find their creativity rewarded.

As many cross-border retailers have discovered, simply translating a website into a foreign language is not enough to leverage sales. To succeed in global markets, merchants need to study target audiences by learning more about their cultures and festivals -- and offer the right products at the right time.

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