Weekly Spotlight: Alibaba Gears Up for Biggest Online Shopping Festival

In this week’s Asia-Pacific roundup, we put the spotlight on Alibaba Group as the e-commerce giant gears up for China’s biggest annual shopping festival happening on the 11th of November.

Each year, Singles Day pulls in billions of dollars in online sales, with Alibaba raking in a record 120.7bn yuan (£13.78bn) in gross merchandise volume (GMV) last year, up 32% from 2015. Held over 24 hours, the online shopping festival generated USD$7.2bn (£5.47bn) in the first two hours alone.

In the first five minutes, Alibaba processed USD$1bn (£759.1m) worth of transactions on its mobile payment platform, Alipay. And while it took eight minutes in 2015 for GMV to cross USD$1bn in total transactions, it took under five minutes last year to cross the same figure.

eMarketer Retail’s analyst and editor-at-large, Andria Cheng, said the Chinese e-commerce giant was likely to hit another record sales figure this year, since it had expanded the Singles Day event to a 24-day shopping and entertainment festival. It also would see record cross-border e-commerce demand, as new global brands set sights on the Chinese market.

According to Alibaba, more than 60,000 participating brands this year were international including Siemens, Adidas, and Mondelez. Its promotions also would extend to more than 100 million consumers in overseas markets such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan through its Tmall World shopping site.

It also unveiled several new initiatives this year, including 60 New Retail pop-up stores in 12 cities across China that featured augmented reality (AR) technologies as well as nearly 100,000 converted ‘smart stores’ offering new services, such as facial-recognition payments and scan-and-deliver shopping.

It also launched an AR game in which consumers used their mobile devices to catch a virtual Tmall cat mascot to win discounts and coupons that could be used at online and offline stores.

Shelleen Shum, eMarketer’s senior forecasting analyst, said: “Online shopping has become a way of life in China, with the large variety of products available at competitive prices, improved logistics networks, and convenient online payment systems.

“We expect Alibaba’s core commerce business to remain the key focus for Alibaba as they seek to pull ahead of competition, with investments in artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance the relevance of product ads to create a shopping experience better tailored to the individual.”

Shum noted that other initiatives, such as live-streaming channels, videos, consumer forums, and articles featured on the vendor’s Taobao app, would keep consumers engaged on its platform.

In its latest second-quarter earnings report, Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang pointed to consumer insights and technology innovation as the primary drivers of its value proposition. In particular, the company’s ‘New Retail’ strategy – which melded online and offline services – offered enhanced customer experience and enabled consumers to shop anytime and anywhere, Zhang said.

For the quarter, ended September 30, Alibaba’s core commerce revenue climbed 63% year-on-year to 46.46bn yuan (£5.3bn). The number of annual active consumers on its retail marketplaces, including Taobao, increased 22 million over the past year to 488 million, as of June 30, 2017; while mobile monthly active users grew 20 million from June 2017 to hit 549 million in September.

Alibaba CMO Chris Tung said: “Regardless of their physical location, consumers will be able to participate in more experiences than ever before [at this year’s Singles Day], all showing the reality of New Retail.”

Lazada preps its own shopping sale

Elsewhere, across Southeast Asia, Lazada is prepping its own online shopping festival, also taking place on the 11th of November, as well as the 12th of December.

The Singapore-headquartered e-commerce operator will hold the sixth iteration of its Online Revolution bonanza across six countries: Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

This year, Lazada shoppers will be able browse a collection of 210 million local and international products, a seven-fold increase from 2016, according to the e-tailer. Special promotions would include flash sales every two hours and $1 deals on Taobao Collection, which would feature curated items from Alibaba’s Singles Day showcase including kitchenware and furnishings.

According to Lazada, two million items were ordered within the first 24 hours of last year’s Online Revolution, where virtual reality glasses, smartphones, and shower gels were amongst the top-selling items.

The online shopping portal runs 130 delivery centres across the six countries in which it operates, as well as partners more than 80 logistics companies including SingPost, Pos Malaysia, and JNE in Indonesia.

Google adds Singlish to Assistant

Singaporeans can take some delight, or not, in conversing with Google’s virtual personal assistant software in their country’s local version of the English language.

Singaporean English, or commonly referred to as Singlish, features a unique Singaporean accent and colloquial terms such as kaki, which means friend, and phrases including lah and okay lor.

Google Assistant now supports Singaporean English and will extend this feature to users of its Pixel 2 XL smartphone from the 15th of November, when the device goes on sale. It also will be made available to Android phones sporting version 6.0 and above of the operating system later this month and Apple iPhone.

Google said the virtual personal assistant software tapped natural language, deep learning, computer vision, and user context to improve its understanding of intent behind words. This would be further improved over time, if user permission was provided, as the application gradually learnt the user’s preferences.