“See Now, Buy Now” is the motto of the 2017 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, the largest single online day of e-commerce ever conceived. Last year, the online retail holiday—singlehandedly created by China’s Alibaba Group as “Single’s Day” in 2009 with just 27 merchants—set records with US$17.8 billion in sales. In fact, Alibaba’s 2016 11.11 sales record smashed its 2015 record by over $3 billion.
This year’s ‘Double 11’ sales tally on November 11th is anyone’s guess, but it’s almost certain to break all previous records. But, as with last year, Alibaba is looking past sales numbers and trying to make 11.11 as much about global growth and establishing awareness of its capabilities—and establishing itself as the go-to Gateway into China vs. competitor Tencent.
Some “online to offline” initiatives this year include:
- Over 1 million stores from different merchants will utilize various online and offline integrations under Alibaba’s New Retail models to enhance merchant operations and create innovative consumer experiences;
- More than 1,000 brands across various categories will be converting over 100,000 physical locations into “smart stores” which will feature a range of New Retail experiences from browsing, shopping tours, virtual fitting rooms, payments and deliveries;
- More than 600,000 local neighbourhood convenience stores and 30,000 Rural Taobao service centers will be part of this year’s 11.11, utilizing Alibaba’s one-stop solution to digitize their businesses and to assist merchandising and inventory management. These small merchants will partner with leading international brands such as Mondelez, Lay’s, Ferrero and P&G to serve more than 100 million consumers;
- Augmented-reality games like “Catch the Cat” will allow Chinese consumers to earn special promotion coupons and prizes when they find and scan the Tmall mascot using the Mobile Taobao App. Tmall mascots will be featured in thousands of retail stores including Starbucks and KFCs and other key shopping locations across China;
- For the first time, Tmall will bring more than 100 Chinese brands overseas, offering special promotions targeting over 100 million overseas Chinese consumers in Asia and around the world.
- Alibaba’s logistics network, Cainiao Network, expects over 3 million logistics personnel to handle the millions of packages generated from the 24-hour shopping festival. Cainiao Network will invest over US$200 million to help merchants and logistics partners to handle the increase in demand.
- The 11.11 Global Shopping Festival Gala will take place on November 11th in China but play live in the West on November 10th, given the time difference. It will be directed by Hollywood producer and FOX veteran David Hill for the second year in a row, featuring celebrity guests and performances livestreamed by three TV station partners in China: Zhejiang TV, Beijing TV and Shenzhen TV.
— Alibaba Group (@AlibabaGroup) October 19, 2017
In the weeks leading to the big day, Alibaba has been building hype with “pre-sale activities.” These include interactive marketing promotions, “New Retail experiences” and new product highlights. The company says that this year’s 11.11 will feature 15 million products from more than 140,000 brands, of which 60,000 are international.
Pre-sale activities this year include its second annual “see now buy now” runway show at New York Fashion Week in September. This year’s celebrity front row included Chinese model and pop superstar Zhang Yixing (a.k.a. Lay), Chinese female rap stars VaVa and noted actress Fan Bingbing, while New York City’s hip fashion retailer/design outpost Opening Ceremony also participated.
Fashion Week partnerships in Paris, Milan and London are also underway, according to Tmall Fashion GM Liu Xiuyun, who has brought brands like Burberry and Zara into China’s biggest B2C online platform, in addition to signing younger-skewing brands like Abercrombie & Fitch this year.
— Charlie BST (@charlie_bst) September 19, 2017
This year’s fashion show also features impressive technology, a hint of what’s to come from Alibaba’s $15 billion R&D budget. Viewers watching the New York Fashion Week show on a mobile device could shake the device when they saw something they liked and Alibaba’s app would push that user a link to the product page.
Making mobile purchases easier than ever should help it surpass last year’s results, when 82% of 11.11 shopping took place on mobile devices.
— China Insights (@Insights_China) September 18, 2017
Planting seeds this past summer, Alibaba toured North America with Gateway ’17 events that touched down in Detroit and Toronto, where 2,500 attendees heard Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alibaba founder and CEO Jack Ma extol the opportunity for trade and commerce with China.
The aim of these events was twofold—to educate the public about Alibaba, and lure North American businesses and brands of all sizes to leverage Alibaba’s ecosystem to tap into the China market.
— Alibaba Group (@AlibabaGroup) October 18, 2017
It also just held an expo in Melbourne, Australia, where it opened an office earlier this year, where it announced a dozen new Australian brands on Tmall.
The full success of this outreach remains to be seen but Alibaba is already seeing positive results, with high-powered marketers like Procter & Gamble CMO Marc Pritchard saying that mastering Alibaba is as important as Amazon to P&G’s stable of powerhouse brands.
Mastering Amazon and Alibaba Is the Key to Driving Growth for Brands https://t.co/fNvZnm4GKE
— Alibaba Group (@AlibabaGroup) October 13, 2017
Alizila, Alibaba’s media arm, is also highlighting how Canadian brands are using its ecosystem with staggering results. A series of slick videos on its YouTube channel highlight not only sales results but each brand’s mission, purpose, authenticity and sustainability stories—all elements that matter for discerning Chinese consumers.
— Alibaba Group (@AlibabaGroup) October 12, 2017
Some of Canada’s biggest brands, such as Lululemon (which “tripled Tmall sales while staying true to its brand”) and shoe purveyor Aldo, shared their Alibaba stories:
Or take Citadelle, Quebec’s largest cooperative of maple syrup producers, which has started selling its syrupy products to China via Alibaba, as CEO Martin Plante explains below:
Another believer: Sun-Rype Products Ltd., a Western Canadian fruit-based food and beverage manufacturer. Since its foundation in 1946, Sun-Rype has been producing fruit juices and snacks based in Kelowna, British Columbia, in the province’s fertile Okanagan Valley. Available across North American, it’s now gaining fans in China for its Fruit to Go fruit bar snacks via a partnership with Just Order, an Alibaba merchant with a Tmall store and a network of Taobao partners, as Sun-Rype shares in this video:
Formerly a B2B company, Canada’s Clearwater Seafoods in Nova Scotia is experiencing phenomenal growth and success in reaching Chinese consumers—the world’s biggest market for premium quality shellfish (such as the Arctic Surf Clam, known as bei gei bei in China, which is used in sushi and cold salads) via Alibaba’s B2C shopping site Tmall. “What’s exciting about Clearwater expanding in China is the size of the opportunity, the growth of the emerging middle class and the rapid change in consumer buying” as GM Stephen Boudreau explains:
On the luxury front, Arc’teryx, a Canadian outdoor clothing and sporting goods company founded in Vancouver in 1989, is another testament to selling on Tmall. The high performance outdoor equipment company, known for leading innovations in climbing, skiing and alpine technologies, has seen Tmall sales become a “huge growth driver” for the brand—growing at 50% per year since joining in 2013—as Adam Ketcheson, the brand’s VP of Marketing and B2C, explains:
UK-based soft toys brand Jellycat has found its British brand of plush animals has become a hit with kids and adults alike in China, where adult women proudly carry stuffed animals as well as kids, posing them for photos on social media and dangling smaller versions from the purses and backpacks:
And as a recent China Daily report noted, New York-based footwear hub Stadium Goods has enjoyed a “huge revenue stream” from its participation in Alibaba’s Tmall.com platform.
As its promotional video touting its Tmall flagship store notes, this year will be the New York-based retailer’s “first 11.11 on Tmall.” It most likely won’t be its last.
Alibaba may still largely be about China brands and domestic merchants and consumers on 11.11, but it’s beginning to seem possible the holiday will become truly global. Now all they need to do is get Western consumers to join the growing number of Western brands at the party.