IT’S bigger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.
Welcome to Alibaba’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, the world’s biggest online sale, set to tally up to $US21 billion worth of sales by 40,000 merchants in just 24 hours.
Kicking off at midnight tonight (3am AEDST) on Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group’s online platforms, this year’s Singles Day sale is expected to be the biggest yet.
With singer Katy Perry and basketball star Kobe Bryant headlining a star-studded, televised four-hour countdown gala orchestrated by Hollywood producer David Hill — known for his work on the Oscars, NFL Super Bowls and American Idol — the event aims to capture global attention and demonstrate Alibaba’s vision for the future of retail.
The countdown begins on Thursday night at 8pm local time in China at the Shenzhen Universiade Sports Center, a huge stadium that seats more than 60,000 people.
When the clock strikes midnight, the retail frenzy will begin as millions of online purchases take place, with sales figures projected on a giant screen at the venue.
‘A WORLD FIRST’
Alibaba Group Chief Marketing Officer Chris Tung called the gala “a global carnival, a world-class performance that involves the audience throughout the event with many touch points and is like nothing else you have experienced.”
In the three weeks leading up to the event, Alibaba has been rolling out hi-tech innovations that bring virtual reality and gaming into the customer experience.
The company kicked off its Singles Day promotions last month with a live streamed, eight-hour fashion show that attracted more than six million viewers.
Shoppers were able to order in real time after spotting creations from brands including Burberry, GAP, Levi’s, La Perla, Paul Smith, New Balance and Under Armour on the catwalk.
At tonight’s gala, audience members will be invited to shake their phones to win prizes and even vote on how segments of the event are played out with an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure style app.
Outside the venue, shoppers using a Pokemon Go-style game will be invited to chase Tmall’s cat mascot around to win prizes from merchants including Shanghai Disneyland and Starbucks, driving foot traffic to Tmall vendors’ shops in the real world as part of a drive to integrate the online and offline shopping experience.
And the world’s first end-to-end virtual reality shopping experience this year allows 11.11 shoppers to browse, order and pay for goods through a VR headset at Macy’s, Target, Costco, P & G, Chemist Warehouse, Freedom foods, Tokyo Otaku Mode, Matsumoto Kiyoshi.
BUY+ The First Complete #VR Shopping Experience. Watch how everything, from perusal to purchase, takes place inside a VR environment. pic.twitter.com/JvYfOYokqF
— Alibaba Group (@AlibabaGroup) October 20, 2016
BIRTH OF A FESTIVAL
Alibaba founder Jack Ma started using Singles Day, an unofficial Chinese holiday celebrating single people, to promote sales on its local B2C platform Tmall in 2009.
Locally known as the “bare sticks holiday” because of how it looks numerically, Singles Day began as an antidote to Valentine’s Day in the 1990s by students at Nanjing University, who bought presents for each other to celebrate their bachelordom.
Now it is the world’s biggest online shopping festival, with last year’s event selling $14.3 billion worth of goods in 24 hours — up 55 per cent on the 2014 results.
This year, an estimated 1.7 million couriers and postal workers are on standby to deliver about 760 million packages from 5000 warehouses to hundreds of millions of Chinese and international shoppers — including Australians, who can shop on Aliexpress, an English language eBay rival that sells everything from fast fashion to smartphone accessories, kids’ toys and camping gear.
Hundreds of Australian businesses are set to profit from the Double 11 festivities, with access China’s 600 million online shoppers through their stores on Tmall Global.
More than 1,300 local brands already sell through the platform, including a2 milk, Devondale, and Blackmores, making Australia the fifth biggest seller country in the world.
Jessica Rudd has a popular Tmall store called Jessica’s Closet, which sells women’s and baby products, while a range of Australian brands sell on Tmall through a partnership with Australia Post, such as beauty subscription service Bellabox.
Chemist’s Warehouse was the star performer last year, while sales of Bellamy’s Organic baby formula were so strong on Singles Day that the shopping festival was blamed for a shortage that cleared the shelves of Australian supermarkets.
A GLOBAL VISION
While Alibaba’s Singles Day sales are still largely dominated by Chinese buyers, Mr Ma’s vision is for the event — and the Alibaba Group itself — to become truly global.
The Alibaba Group, which comprises e-commerce, cloud computing, payments, marketing, media and entertainment companies worth a collective $257 billion, this year overtook Walmart as the world’s largest retailer.
Through its new Melbourne office, the company is ramping up its Australian presence and reaching out to local vendors and customers.
During the G20 meeting in Hangzhou in September, Mr Ma signed a deal with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to make it easier for Australian small businesses to sell into China, including B2B sales on 1688.com and an annual Australian fresh food week sales promotion on its food platform, Tmall Fresh.
“Our vision is in 10 years, we will help two billion consumers in the world shop online,” Mr Ma announced last year.
“Our globalisation will still be focusing on helping small businesses and helping them do business in the most efficient way.”
Dana McCauley is in China as a guest of Alibaba
Following its expansion into Southeast Asia, Alibaba is targeting India in an effort to increase revenue as the Chinese e-commerce giant faces tough competition at home. Photo: AP