The view from China: how bamboo and consumers in lower-tier cities give Alibaba a leg-up on Singles’ Day

Alibaba hits records for 11.11 sales day

Enter Alibaba’s Xixi Campus at its Hangzhou headquarters in the lead up to Singles’ Day, also known as 11.11, and one is greeted with bamboo everywhere, chosen because of its auspicious connotations of strong and steady growth to new heights. It’s Chinese name “damai,” is also a homonym for “big sales.”

Staff on campus are also quickly moving around in red t-shirts with the 2019 slogan “Make 11 happen”, which is a play on “Make it happen”. They also make a show of banging large drums, which are placed around the campus and in each office, each time a sales record is broken.

It seems these perfunctory moves have paid off.

On Tuesday morning, Alibaba announced a final figure of RMB268.4 billion (US$38.4bn) of gross merchandise volume (GMV) at the end of its first 11.11 without its recently retired founder, Jack Ma.

This is an increase of 26% compared to 2018 and helped by more than 200,000 participating brands that launched more than a million new products just for 11.11. For example, Olay and Shiseido, have committed to incubating more than 50% of their new products with Tmall this year.

It took just 14 hours for GMV to hit RMB200 billion and close to 15 hours to exceed USD30 billion.

According to Alibaba, GMV is the total value of orders settled through its payment platform Alipay, as well as through Lazada and AliExpress within a 24-hour period on 11.11.

The total number of delivery orders also reached a new high, reaching 1.3bn, up 59% from 812m last year. Amongst the 299 brands to reach RMB 100m in GMV, including Apple, Nike, Estee Lauder and Giorgio Armani.

Estee Lauder-owned brand MAC sold 60,000 units of a limited-edition, just-for-11.11 lipstick in five minutes of pre-sales.

The top 10 countries selling to China through Alibaba’s cross-border platforms were Japan, the U.S., Korea, Australia, Germany, France, the UK, New Zealand, Italy and Canada.

“Today we showed the world what the future of consumption looks like for brands and consumers,” said Fan Jiang, president of Taobao and Tmall.

“We are meeting the growing demand of Chinese consumers and helping them upgrade their lifestyles while introducing new users to our digital economy from across China and around the world.”

Throughout the two-day media tour, Alibaba executives took pains to stress during press conferences that Alibaba was expecting consumers in China’s lower-tier cities and rural areas to spend more, as the e-commerce giant has seen more than 70% of its 102 million newly acquired annual active consumers come from there.

Both Liu Bo, general manager of Taobao and Tmall Marketing and Alvin Liu, Alibaba’s head of import and export business explained that to reach and create new products for lower-tier consumers, Alibaba is using consumer analytics and supply-chain capabilities, and partnering with brands, like P&G and L’Oréal.

Liu added that Alibaba provides both brands and manufacturers with the data they need to develop and market products tailored directly to these new online shoppers. It hoped that by delivering better-quality goods at affordable prices, consumers in lower-tier areas would make frequent purchases.

The increased focus on marketing tools like live-streaming also appears to have paid off. In the leadup to 11.11, a joint livestream by popular Chinese key opinion leader Viva Huang and reality TV star Kim Kardashian West drew 13m views and saw West sold out her KKW perfume in just a few minutes.

Over the 11.11 period, more than 500 influencers from 10 countries livestreamed to push products to their audiences. Alibaba said the plan is to train and support 2,000 mega-popular influencers to build out a network of wangzi, called the Tmall Global Influencer Ecosystem.

Brands like New Zealand-based nutritional supplement maker, Clinicians, set up booths on the Xixi campus to give reporters a behind-the-scenes look. Clinicans told reporters that the brand saw a 40% jump in sales after it started livestreaming in China in May.

As is the norm, Alibaba kicked off its annual 11.11 countdown gala on its video streaming platform Youku, headlined by Taylor Swift.

Lazada, whose co-president Jing Yin previously explained to The Drum why he can never sleep on 11.11, held its own gala called "Super Show", which was livestreamed in five countries, marking the debut of an interactive “voucher rain” segment, where viewers can use their Lazada app to collect exclusive 11.11 vouchers in real-time.

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