The numbers are in and 24 hours of online purchasing on 11 November, the worlds largest online shopping day known as ‘Singles Day’, or ‘11.11’, saw Chinese consumers smashing records with e-commerce giant Alibaba raking in CNY168.2 billion (USD25 billion), or to put it in perspective – just over USD17 million a minute.
Rival e-commerce company and the second largest in China, JD.com, racked up CNY127.1 billion, but over an 11-day period which the company says helps reduce logistics bottlenecks and gives customers more time to consider their purchases.
The Alibaba-created Singles’ Day Shopping Festival, now rebranded as 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, is like no other and dwarves all other major online shopping events in the world, including the combined sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US which in 2016 rang up a paltry, by comparison, USD6.79 billion. Single’s Day with its combination of commerce and entertainment is nothing less than an unrestrained exhortation of consumerism.
Facing a potential waning of interest in the shopping extravaganza, Alibaba continues to innovate, pulling out the stops to keep the hype buzzing and the cash registers ringing. The event has even seen a new word coined – “retail-tainment” – because of the high-profile entertainment that now accompanies it. A-list celebrities including Nichole Kidman, Pharrell Williams and Chinese movie star Fan Bingbing put on an extravaganza for a roaring audience. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s charismatic founder, also made a surprise appearance as the “retail-tainment-in-chief.”
By any account the numbers, and not just the sales figures, are staggering: 140,000 brands including international brands like P&G, Estee Lauder, Starbucks, Bose, Nike, and GAP; 15 million products with top selling products in the fresh food, wellness and baby products categories; 812 million orders placed; and USD1.48 billion in payments processed through Alibaba’s electronic payment scheme, Alipay, with a full 90 per cent placed through mobile phones compared to only about 30 per cent for the Black Friday event.
To support the giant shopping event, Cainiao – Alibaba’s logistics network – has invested more than USD200 million to support merchants and logistics partners participating in the event. This includes having more than three million logistics personnel on duty to handle the massive volume of packages generated in the 24 hour period which are in the process of being delivered over the next few days.
The event is also about retail innovation Alibaba experimenting last year with integrating virtual reality (VR) into the shopping experience. This year, the hype is ‘New Retail’, which relies on ‘big data’ to seamlessly integrate online and offline platforms, including nearly 600,000 neighborhood stores in China and more than 100,000 physical ‘smart stores’ offering virtual fitting rooms, shopping tours, payment and deliveries. By employing artificial intelligence (AI) in tapping the enormous amount of consumer data it posses, Alibaba is leveraging this ‘big data’ to provide a personalised experience including intelligent recommendations for consumers.
Alibaba and Cainiao have also developed a smart logistics platform, again tapping big data, aimed at enabling faster delivery from proximity warehouses and stores – in this year’s event the first order was delivered in just over 12 minutes of the purchase.