A look at the technology needed to fulfil Alibaba’s major shopping event 11.11

Cainiao is using robots and charter flights to fulfil demand from Singles Day

The interest, and indeed consumption, of China’s biggest shopping festival 11.11 (or Single’s Day as it was formerly known), has slowly expanded into Asia and now the rest of the world.

The numbers far exceed that of Black Friday or Cyber Monday in the west, Alibaba’s logistics unit shipped 812 million orders during the sale last year, and brands are looking to the event now for lessons in e-commerce mastery.

Behind the scenes, the demand is fuelling the development of technology that will help the business fulfill the orders. Alibaba has an aim to be able to deliver anywhere in China within 24 hours and anywhere else in the world within 72 hours and its smart logistics arm Cainiao Network is behind this mission.

Cainiao vice president Ben Wang, said, “It was only five years ago that parcel orders surpassed 100 million for the first time. Back then it took nine days to deliver the first 100 million parcels. Last year, it took less than three days (2.8 days) to deliver the same number of parcels. Consumers increasingly want faster, better delivery, so that’s what we’re doing. This year, we’re striving to achieve a new high, leveraging the beauty of scale and technology.”

Ahead of this year’s event, Cainiao Networks has announced a set of upgrades to the technology in order to get closer to this goal. According to its announcement, Cainiao has opened a new robotic warehouse, expanded its Internet of Things (IoT) systems and built out its platform’s ‘last-mile reach’.

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Cainiao’s smart warehouse uses 700 automated guided vehicles which use an IoT system to drive, load and unload packages, which it says helps to fulfill 50% more orders than a traditional warehouse. The company has also created a system for traditional warehouses that upgrades its systems without being fully smart. Using a camera system, Computer Vision Technology, and Cainiao’s algorithm, it can detect idle systems and suggest efficiency. The system, named Sky Eye, improve traditional systems by 15%, the company claims.

For its commitment to the last mile and getting products in a short amount of time, Cainiao and Alibaba have put in place efforts ahead of the sale to cut downtime. China is a country with a lot of miles to cover and many live in rural areas. To cut down the delivery time, the business is placing ‘bonded warehouses’ that house the right goods nearer to the areas they are likely to be ordered from.

For outside China, customers of AliExpress and Tmall will be able to get good sooner because the logistics company has 51 chartered flights to take goods to West Europe, Russia, and South East Asia. As well, around 1,000 containers that will take goods via sea freight to South East Asia and other destinations.

The additional efforts to get products overseas, particularly for South East Asia, will help Alibaba retain its central status within the sale event, as more and more brands step up with competing sales.

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