Alibaba’s blockbuster online shopping day, Singles’ Day, is about to get a lot more physical.
The event, which had been largely an online sale, is making a push this year to get brick-and-mortar retailers involved in what’s become the biggest shopping day of the year, far eclipsing Black Friday and Cyber Monday in terms of dollars. With the big day less than one month away, Alibaba has enlisted tens of thousands of Chinese stores to take part in the 24-hour event. This year, more than 1,000 brands with 180,000 stores spanning 330 cities across China will participate.
Zhang Kuo, senior director of Alibaba Group‘s mobile business division who also spearheaded this omnichannel initiative, expects Singles’ Day sales to eclipse last year’s take of $9.3 billion, but was unable to share a dollar projection for sales this year with the addition of physical stores.
Kuo said the company hopes this Singles’ Day, or the 11.11 festival, will help the shopping holiday evolve into an omnichannel experience.
“Anything that can change the experience for the user will affect their buying,” Kuo said of the increase in shopping options for consumers this year.
Starting Monday, the same Singles’ Day products, prices, services and membership benefits typically available to consumers online will be extended to consumers visiting stores of participating merchants. Off-line branding for 11.11 also hit Monday, and Kuo said this marketing push would help grow awareness for the event.
“Now everywhere people go, they see the 11.11 logo. People are treating this as an occasion – [they] are having parties,” Kuo said.
In 2014, purchases for the day on Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao reached the $1 billion mark within the first 20 minutes.
Kuo noted that a substantial change in customer behavior took place last year, with many more shoppers switching to mobile devices from desktop computers — and this year he projects more than half of sales to be mobile. Mobile gross merchandise volume through Alibaba’s payment arm, Alipay, represented nearly 43 percent of total gross merchandise value.
He cited furniture as a category that will benefit from an omnichannel partnership this year. Alibaba worked with furniture brands on creating deals for Singles’ Day where orders can be placed online and associates then come to the buyer’s home to take measurements and fulfill the order. An “old for new” service started last year where consumers can trade in their old TVs, for instance, when a new TV that they’ve ordered online arrives.
Automobiles are another sector where Alibaba merges on- and off-line services.
“You can pay for a car online, but you can experience it off-line. Also in China, [there are] a lot of services [needed] to make sure it’s registered. That will be deeply integrated off-line and online,” Kuo said. For him, it will become indistinguishable whether a transaction is an “online” or “off-line” purchase.
“[Products with] high prices and heavy services need to integrate both [on and off-line], [especially] furniture and automobiles. For that, a high percentage of purchases will be omnichannel,” Kuo said.
This omnichannel initiative is the culmination of the first part of a 50-year technological revolution, he said, calling the 1995 to 2015 period a “data information revolution” that is about to give way to the next 30 years of innovation. The next three decades will be integral in implementing technology with mainstream businesses.
Sensing change as well, American brands are also starting to get in on the Singles’ Day rush.
Last year, Calvin Klein and American Eagle Outfitters participated in 11.11 Festivals, with Estée Lauder taking part for the second time. Kuo said that the “beauty giants” — including Lauder, Procter & Gamble and Unilever — will launch custom products for 11.11.
Dennis McEniry, president of ELC Online for The Estée Lauder Cos., told WWD that Singles’ Day last year was the company’s biggest day for e-commerce sales in China ever.
“It’s a great way for consumers to experience our brands on the biggest online shopping day of the year. We are able to reach many consumers who love our brands, but do not have easy access to our counters in brick-and-mortar,” McEniry said, adding that Clinique, Estée Lauder, La Mer, Origins and Bobbi Brown will all participate in Singles’ Day this year through Tmall.
He said Clinique was particularly successful during Singles’ Day last year, with sales on Tmall more than doubling over a year earlier. Overall, Estée Lauder was the top-selling prestige beauty brand on the platform for Single’s Day last year, according to Alibaba.
Oksana Voronenko, senior director and head of international at Gilt Groupe, said even though the site participated in Singles’ Day in 2013, it wasn’t until last year that it made considerable efforts both on the product and marketing fronts to promote sales for the day. Gilt not only adjusted the time of e-mail and marketing communication, but also translated portions of its site and the marketing message sent to consumers. Gilt implemented Alipay and UnionPay — the dominant payment methods – for the first time.
“China is the world’s largest luxury market,” Voronenko said. “Gilt is really well positioned to play in this market because of the brands we offer, how well-known and sought-after they are in China and the fact that we offer them at a price that’s otherwise difficult to obtain in that market.”
On Nov. 11, Gilt will put up an additional 26 sales (on top of its normal offerings), including bestselling brands in China. Prices will be up to 80 percent off and all orders are eligible for free shipping.
Voronenko was unable to give a sales projection for the day, but expects sales for the day to be “very robust.” International sales make up 20 percent of Gilt’s overall revenues.