Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Nov 10, 2017

The (more than) 24 hours of Singles Day: Reports from Alibaba's epicentre

Reports filed liveblog style from Shanghai for the ninth 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, covering from the countdown Friday night all the way through to the end at 12 am Sunday morning.

The (more than) 24 hours of Singles Day: Reports from Alibaba's epicentre

Note: This report was created in liveblog format starting Friday evening and continuing through Saturday. The oldest items are at the bottom.

12 November, Sunday, 12 am

As of 24:00:00, total GMV has exceeded RMB168.2 billion (more than US$25.3 billion) from 225 countries and regions, out of which 40% are from international brands. In total 167 merchants surpassed RMB100 million in sales, 17 sold more RMB500 million of goods, and six merchants reached RMB1 billion in transactions. "We used to list them on the big screen; now we can’t even do that anymore," said CEO Zhang.

Phenomenal numbers to say the least - they also busted all previous analyst predictions. Many factors worked in tandem in favour for Alibaba:

  • This is the first time Singles Day fell on a Saturday 
  • Premiumisation and emotional consumption are the macro trends benefiting Alibaba 
  • Even the weather is benefitting the 'new retail' strategy. "It's like giving offline merchants wings", described Zhang.

Singles Day may be in its ninth year, but this year is Year Zero for 'New Retail', Zhang said, and next year's Single Day format will gravitate even more towards that direction. "This is the testbed for combining commercial and technological innovation that has come together in a powerful chemical reaction." 

Top 5 imported brands bought by Chinese consumers by GMV:
3、花王/妙而舒 (Kao / Merries)
5、Bio Island

Top 5 countries/regions selling cross-border to China by GMV:
1、日本 Japan
2、美国 United States
3、澳大利亚 Australia
4、德国 Germany
5、韩国 Korea

Top 5 countries/regions buying cross-border from China by GMV:
1、俄罗斯 Russia
2、中国香港 Hong Kong
3、美国 United States
4、中国台湾 Taiwan
5、澳大利亚 Australia

9:30 pm

Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang just finished a press conference, saying that the company's focus isn’t solely on driving up 11.11 GMV, but also wants to understand the evolution of customers’ buying habits and their lifestyles in order to predict their needs before even they do. To do so means that Alibaba is not only meeting customer demand, but also creating demand for merchants.

4:46 pm

U.S. audio equipment brand Bose, which launched its flagship store on Alibaba’s B2C site Tmall in 2014, is selling its wares during Singles Day for the fourth time. "The next step for us is to update our physical shops into 'smart stores' (also known as iStores in some Alibaba materials, which the inconsistency is a little confusing) to enhance their shopping experience," commented Rachel Zhang, head of digital and ecommerce at Bose Greater China in a panel discussion. "One of Bose's goals is to increase the proportion of females in our consumer case, and if 'new retail' is a new trend, we will embrace it."

In the same panel, Gary Chu (pictured below), ecommerce general manager at Estee Lauder Group China, also spoke in favour of the pop-up stores decked with retail tech Alibaba set up for Singles Day. "Our offline stores have a global format that cannot be changed for the Chinese market... And in the cosmetics industry we are very demanding about colours, so using devices to address that is beneficial for us," he said.


2:14 pm

Chris Tung, chief marketing officer of Alibaba Group, in a press briefing, talked up the 'uni-marketing' system that has been powering campaigns in the run-up to Singles Day. That system, he said, is "redefining marketing as a process of consumer asset management". 

The thinking behind it is, if a marketer is using fragmented data, it doesn't mean a thing, he said. Not so with a 'uni identity', thanks to purchasing and behaviourial data gleaned from the vast Alibaba ecosystem. Say, with 2.8 million people potentially interested in Nike, for example, running a coupon-based promotion for basketball sneakers on Alibaba platforms to try and convert these 2.8 million will be efficiency. Nobody else will see these promotions except for these exact 2.8 million people who already shown interest via searching for the brand voluntarily on Taobao. "This is perfect visibility and actionability," he said. 

"Now, we no longer care about e-commerce only, but we care about the whole ecosystem where we can utilise and connect data from both offline and online sources," he said.

Tung's speech on the merits of collecting data for marketing efficacy hit a snag with privacy advocates in the audience. "You keep saying how much data you are collecting about a customer, and you're not giving the specific data to brands. How much consideration is there for data protection? What is your limit on the collection of customer data? Sounds really creepy to me," remarked one reporter. 

In part reply, Tung said Alibaba’s “personalisation technology” is meant to make better brand recommendations to consumers. “You don’t want to see other ads when you love Lancome, for instance. Our goal is really to help brands build their businesses and we don’t want to jeopardise their ad experiences."

When pushed to elaborate on the “limit” of data collection, Tung said the line is drawn when the consumer makes a choice to opt in as a Lancome fan, for the sake of illustration, to get information about promotions. “We cannot randomly put people into Lancome’s data bank; it’s free will,” he said, emphasising that normally more than 500 thousand data points are presented to marketers as an anonymised group.

1:23 pm

Just got official word that as of now, Alibaba has already beat its last year's GMV record of RMB120.7 billion, with yet another 11 hours to go.

8 am

82 brands had each passed RMB100 million in sales. Among those names were Apple, Nike, Adidas, Skechers, Zara, Dyson, L’Oreal, Gap, Estee Lauder, New Balance, Samsung and Shiseido.

1:05 am

On the way back to the hotel to call it a night, this reporter noticed Polo Ralph Lauren, Victoria's Secret, Gap, Old Navy, Guess, Adidas, Gstar, Fila, Kappa, Levi's and Erdos getting shoppers to log into their Taobao or Tmall mobile apps to try out their mobile fitting rooms. These 'rooms' can virtually dress the consumers through AR after they upload photos of themselves and input their weight and height data. 

12:42 am

Back at the media centre housing 700 journalists, the host drew attention to the massive screen showing real-time data of Shanghai-based shoppers currently clicking or buying on any of the Alibaba platforms. He highlighted a few yellow blinking dots, representing 13 Hema supermarkets in the vicinity—an testament of the 'new retail' model that Alibaba has been drumming about as they are as much stores as they are warehouses and order fulfilment hubs. Within a three-kilometre radius of each supermarket, delivery of any fresh produce from lobsters, oysters, crabs, vegetables to oranges can be made in 30 minutes, claims Alibaba, being so proud of Hema to the extent of joking about 'Hema-radius property' being white-hot in value.

12:03 am

Tick tock, tick tock. Transactions in the first three minutes hit RMB10 billion (US$1.5 billion), mainly from pre-sales reservations before the 24-hour shopping spree started. The same milestone was hit only at the sixth-minute mark last year.

11 November, Saturday, 12 am

Daniel Zhang, Alibaba CEO, kicked off the sale officially, announcing it from the company's Hangzhou 'nerve centre' with an army of staff maintaining the IT infrastructure to facilitate upcoming computing tasks and manage the peak traffic load from extensive browsing, ordering, paying and arranging logistics. 

8:39 pm

HLA, a domestic men's apparel brand (and one of 100 Chinese brands including Peacebird, Gree, Haier, Joyoung and Shanghai Jahwa given special treatment by Alibaba) was showcased prominently in its own fashion-show segment, complete with paper bags full of merchandise.

8:13 pm

Retired Portugese footballer Luis Figo thanked Heads and Shoulders for bringing him to the Singles Day gala stage to play football again, before attempting a few (failed) goals at a fake goalpost as part of a interactive betting segment with viewers. A branded-graphic popped up on screen grabbing the opportunity to sell a time-sensitive deal of 'get nine for the price of one Head and Shoulders product'.

7:58 pm

Actress Zhang Ziyi made an appearance, but only to talk about tales of motherhood and to tout Pretty Feather (飘飘羽毛), a homegrown diaper brand, after being appointed as its "chief product experience officer" (Chinese publicist-speak for brand ambassador) since July this year. She lamented about the poor-quality alternatives in the market hurting the most precious humans in the world - babies.

7:45 pm

The Vivo-branded Tmall Singles Day Gala kicks off at the Mercedes Benz Arena, with sponsorship fees said to be more than RMB100 million gaining Vivo desirable brand exposure for its new X20 smartphone launched just last month in October. This hefty investment is little surprise as in 2016, Vivo's official flagship store on Tmall sold enough Vivo X7s to top the overall mobile-phone sales ranking of a single product.

6:24 pm

The Alibaba press kit highlighted 'Lu Ban', named after the patron saint of craftsmen in ancient China, an AI-based marketing design platform that is behind the customised online banner ads for brands created automatically using deep learning, reinforcement learning, Monte Carlo tree search and image search. This year's 11.11 marketing elements have been integrated to create 8,000 banner ads per second, the company claimed.

10 November, Friday, 5:45 pm

Joe Tsai, executive vice chairman of Alibaba Group welcomed international media at a dinner by drumming up enthusiasm to cover the impending spiral of consumerism. "The first thing we ask one another in China when we meet recently is: how many items have you put into your basket? It’s extremely exciting and action-packed."

He then proclaimed some future ambitions to export the Singles Day festival to US and Europe; and eventually help other countries develop e-commerce ecosystems that will in the next ten years serve two billion global consumers and make deliveries anywhere within 72 hours. AliExpress is already an export platform that allows overseas shoppers to buy from Chinese producers and "if we stay in China we’re not going to get to that two-billion number."

Addressing criticism of the overly-complex system of vouchers and coupons in order to get a deal every Singles Day, Tsai said that discounts are only one way to attract attention and "to get a foot into the door". Get consumers to buy one discounted item; they may end up buying ten other items that are not discounted, he said. "I don’t associate discounted goods with being high quality or low quality," he added. 

See all 2017 Singles Day coverage


See all 2017 Singles Day coverage


Campaign China

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