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How Alibaba Is Creating the Future of Commerce on 11/11

During the 2015 Tmall 11:11 Global Shopping Festival gala in Beijing on November 11, 2015. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Alibaba is counting down to its annual shopping bonanza: the Singles Day shopping festival on November 11. Since it was launched seven years ago, it has become the largest shopping day on the planet. Last year, it generated sales of $14 billion, more than double the total online sales from Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined in the U.S.

This year’s Singles Day will be like no other. Alibaba wants to make it a global phenomenon. It has already kicked-off a series of warming up events including an eight-hour live-streamed “see now buy now” fashion show from Shanghai, where consumers can order anything they see on the catwalk in real time.

But what’s really exciting about the Singles Day is its potential to change the way people shop. Here is a sneak peek at what will happen.

Virtual Reality Shopping

Virtual reality shopping is no longer science fiction. Alibaba will showcase its Buy+ virtual shopping experience for the first time at the festival.

For about 15 cents, consumers can purchase a cardboard VR headset. They can slip their smartphone into the headset and browse products from handbags to shoes to lingerie, and even have virtual models showcase the apparel and accessories on a catwalk.

In a video released by Alibaba, a Chinese shopper put on a VR headset, and the next thing he knew he was in Times Square in New York City. He then took a yellow cab to Macy’s department store, and was greeted by sales personnel on the floor. From there, he strolled around the store and bought a handbag for his girlfriend. Buy+ is integrated with Alipay. With a nod, he made a payment without the need to remove the headset to check out.

For retailers who do not have a brick-and-mortar presence in China, such as Macy’s, this could be a game changer, and a dream come true.

Augmented Reality OTO

If virtual reality shopping is not enough to stimulate your brain, Alibaba is trying to create a “Pokemon Go” style augmented reality game that will drive online traffic to offline locations.

E-commerce is no longer online only. Many online activities can be translated to offline purchases. Online to offline, or OTO, is big in China. For example, KFC sold 80,000 chicken nugget packs in one day on Alibaba’s Tmall, which people had to pick up at local restaurants. In the West, Groupon is a perfect example of OTO.

What does this have to do with the Pokemon Go game where players chase virtual creatures from the popular Japanese franchise around real-world environments? Well, we’ll have to wait and see. Alibaba wants its version of Pokemon Go to “become the most popular mobile game ever released.” Companies such as KFC and Starbucks are spearheading this effort with Alibaba.


This year’s festival will integrate entertainment into e-commerce. Alibaba wants to make shopping fun and thrilling by “erasing the line between commerce and entertainment.”

During the shopping festival, it will host a Super Bowl-like gala, featuring American pop star Katie Perry and basketball player Kobe Bryant, and live entertainment with domestic and international celebrities. While watching the shows, consumers can shake their phones to win prizes and load their carts with deals only available for those watching live.

Last year, over 100 million people tuned into the live countdown gala in the final hours before the sale began. This year, even more people are expected to participate.

Personalized Experience

Jack Ma once said that Alibaba is no longer an e-commerce company, but a data company. That may be true since the company owns the data of hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers.

By mining the data of its e-commerce, social sharing, payments and location based services, Alibaba can help retailers create a personalized experience for each individual consumer, and that’s what Alibaba plans to do at the Singles Day.

This creates new opportunities for brands to engage with their customers. Retailers can customize their storefronts, product selections, and marketing materials so that every consumer sees personalized search results and recommendations when they open the Tmall app on their smartphones.

Many global heavyweights such as Apple, P&G, L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, Costco, Target, and Maserati will be participating the festival; so are tens of thousands of smaller brands from U.S., Europe, Japan, Korea and Australia.

eMarketer predicts Singles Day sales will increase 40% from last year and reach $20 billion. More importantly, this Singles Day will mark the beginning of the future of commerce.

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