Retail Briefing: What Singles Day says about Alibaba’s expansion plans

China’s biggest shopping holiday has come and gone — and while Singles Day, which garnered $30.8 billion in sales (a jump from last year’s $25.3 billion) may be in danger of hitting a plateau, it still provides some indications of how Alibaba is using it to grow adoption of its other ad products.

Here’s what it’s pushing:

  • That Alibaba isn’t just a Chinese behemoth: It has the capacity to attract global brands, and global consumers. This year, Lazada, Alibaba’s Singapore-based e-commerce company, hosted its first 11.11 event, extending Singles’ Day across six South East Asian markets. This year, over 40 percent of shoppers bought from non-Chinese brands, including Apple and Nestle — and 240 brands topped $14.4 million in one-day sales.
  • Alibaba has significant retail technology via TMall, which includes smart stores, pop up stores, smart nursery rooms and parking services. These were on display across 200,000 stores for Singles’ Day — that let people “buy” in-store and have things delivered to them.
  • Alipay and its use for non-Chinese merchants. About 700 million Chinese customers use Alipay daily. And the “familiarity” has helped with higher conversion rates, according to the head of U.S. sales at the company, Eddie Davis. The next step — and one Singles’ Day could potentially be much more useful for, is getting non-Chinese merchants Alipay ready.
  • “The main challenge is helping the merchants get China-ready and Alipay-ready to fully benefit from the reach of Alipay and get to know the behavior of our customers,” said Davis. More than 90 percent of Singles’ Day transactions go through mobile and there increasing focus on non-Chinese brands. “There’s still more to Singles’ Day than simply the sales,” emailed one Chinese ad exec. “Lot of juice left.”

All of this is happening against the backdrop of some backlash against 11.11 growth, including worry about Chinese economic growth slowing and some culture chatter that there is some exhaustion over Singles’ Day hype. There’s also a significant competition coming from rivals including JD.com, which said its own 11.11 transaction volume was $23 billion this year.  — Shareen Pathak and Suman Bhattacharyya

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