When the clock strikes 12: Behind the Cinderella shopping phenomenon

Find out how Cinderella shoppers changed the marketing game seemingly overnight.

While COVID-19 has driven the rest of the world to a standstill, online shopping has come out unexpectedly strong. It’s always been around, but current circumstances have catapulted e-commerce into exponential growth — so much so that it created an entirely new breed of consumer: the Cinderella Shopper.

What is a Cinderella Shopper?

Coined by industry magazine Marketing Interactive, this is the Cinderella Shopper in its natural habitat: Awake while the rest of the world is sleeping, brandishing a smartphone with an online cart filled to the brim, items waiting to be checked out.

As the circuit breaker hit its first year, online shopping platform Shopee observed a steady rise of user activity at midnight, according to the publication. Over the months, Shopee’s user activity nearly tripled during 12 MN to 2AM — not only in Singapore and Malaysia, but also in the rest of its market in Indonesia, Philippines, and Thailand. 

With this specific time window, Shopee dubbed the new market as Cinderella shoppers, after the titular fairytale character’s looming deadline – before her grand transformation reverted to normal. Eventually, Shopee tested the waters (and confirmed the Cinderella shopper’s existence) during its 4.4 Midnight Mega Sale held from 12MN until 2AM, which sold items 6 times its usual turnout.

Who’s the Fairy Godmother?

Despite the etymology, Shopee doesn’t owe its emerging market to some kind, old lady with magic powers. Whether it stems from the shoppers’ lack of inhibition via sleep deprivation or retail therapy tendencies is also debatable.

In an interview with Marketing Interactive, Shopee Singapore marketing head Tiger Wang proposed that the rise in Cinderella shoppers can be attributed to the kiasu mentality, “where consumers want to ensure that their desired products do not run out of stock.”

From an industry standpoint, Shopee’s Cinderella shopper discovery is a testament to the merits of real-time marketing. After recognising its growing audience, Shopee capitalised on its traction by going full blast on marketing. Essentially, real-time marketing just means striking while the iron is hot — and Shopee’s overnight success teaches us many values applicable to any business.

What does it mean for marketing?

When it comes down to it, good marketing is the proverbial sparkly carriage that brings Cinderella shoppers towards their purchases. However, what exactly makes your marketing approach stand out in a sea of competition? Here’s how Shopee did it:

1. Knowing — and following — your audience.

Identifying your target demographic is a no-brainer for business, but closely following your consumers’ habits and patterns helps you cater to them more. Business is never a one-sided affair, especially not with an ever-evolving audience. 

Through keeping an eye on user behavior, Shopee pinpointed the uptick in shopping activity leading up to midnight, which helped them snowball the once-small figure into something much bigger.

2. Offering exclusive deals.

Going back to the kiasu mentality, Shopee capitalised on this FOMO by holding random flash sales, offering vouchers, promos, and other limited deals on the days leading to the big sale. These small offers gave shoppers a taste of what was to come, building their anticipation and keeping them on their toes.

3. Maximising your reach creatively.

You probably wouldn’t associate K-Pop groups or local artists with online shopping, but a big part of Shopee’s success comes from tapping into these celebrities’ fanbases. Particularly for the 4.4. Midnight Mega Sale, Shopee featured K-Pop girl group MAMAMOO on Shopee Live, greatly magnifying the event’s reach through engagements from the act’s avid fans.

4. Dialling up your communication strategy.

Ever notice how often you get push notifications nowadays? With everyone trying to stay indoors, we’re all bound to be on our phones, which prompts Shopee and other e-businesses to light up our phones all the more. Aside from the notifs and newsletters, Shopee has also introduced interactive features such as in-app games and raffles like Shopee Shake. 

Especially for an e-commerce business, these features elevate Shopee from being merely a shopping catalogue into a community in itself.

5. Rewarding loyal customers.

Speaking of community, nothing creates a sense of belonging in consumers like memberships. In Shopee’s case, they recently started offering a tier programme for shoppers that make a certain amount of purchases, with premium perks increasing as they shop more. Essentially, this keeps loyal consumers coming back for more, as they don’t want to miss out on bigger and better deals.


Cinderella shoppers are exactly what the name suggests, but instead of singing mice that bring people clothes, it’s the voice in their head that says, “Wow, I have to grab this good deal!” or “Yup, I totally need this in my life.” That said, it’s about time you lead them into your ball. 

on April 22, 2021