For Alibaba’s Singles’ Day: Think Mobile, Think Social

Every year, the e-commerce phenomenon of Singles’ Day (or 11.11 as it’s now called) reminds us of just how much opportunity exists for brands in China and in the APAC region generally. In 2015, Alibaba, the driving force behind Singles’ Day, claimed to have processed £9.4bn worth of sales in only 24 hours. And as this year’s event has been expanded to cover 24 days of shopping, we can expect even more hype (and revenue) surrounding this occasion.

These headlines are indicative of the mainstream nature of e-commerce in this market. In China, being an internet user means being an online shopper. GlobalWebIndex’s research shows that 88% of internet users here are shopping online, rising to 92% among the 25-34s (the exact demographic that Jack Ma’s Alibaba has targeted with Singles’ Day). And it’s mobiles that are driving this shopping frenzy. Not only are digital consumers in China 50% more likely than the global average to be shopping online via their smartphones, they are in fact now more likely to be engaging in m-commerce than using a PC/laptop to complete their purchase. This transition has also taken place in Thailand and although computers remain the primary e-commerce device in most other APAC markets, figures for mobile shopping and computer shopping not far off equal in Indonesia and, crucially, India. It’s only a matter of time before we see smartphones become the default device for online shopping in Asia.

This trend is a clear reflection of the central importance of the smartphone to the online activities of consumers in APAC. It’s now over 50% of internet users in this region who say that their mobile is their most important device and time spent online via mobiles is rapidly reaching the figures posted by all other devices combined. So it’s no wonder that our research shows that smartphones have become a crucial part of the entire purchase journey of digital consumers in APAC. In China, for example, 1 in 5 say that they are discovering new brands from in-app ads and mobile apps are now a more important product research channel than price comparison sites or brand/product sites. With so many online commerce activities taking place within the mobile sphere, Alibaba’s claim that 68% of its Singles’ Day’s sales were made on mobile makes perfect sense. For brands, mobile-first strategies are essential for engaging consumers in APAC.

But in this region, the worlds of mobile and social are inextricably linked. In China, for example, it’s now 86% networking via mobiles, significantly more than do so via PC/laptops, and this is a situation we see repeated across the vast majority of APAC markets, particularly among younger consumers. And as social networks are now the second most important brand research channel in this region (behind only search engines) the impact of social, often via mobile, on digital consumers’ shopping habits can hardly be understated. The vast revenues gathered by social app WeChat in China by facilitating brand-consumer interactions and social commerce are testament to this.

While mobile and social drive are currently driving the evolution of e-commerce in APAC, at the intersection of these two worlds lies a trends that could be key the future of online shopping habits in this region – chat bots. The hype machine has gone to work on chat bots over the past few months, after Facebook announced it would be building out chat bot functionality on Messenger, but in China these useful assistants have been helping brands connect with consumers for some time.

The ability of social platforms to deliver user-friendly ads with targeted ‘logged-in’ data has proven its worth but the development of social chat bots and their future marketing potential is where the real virtues of social and mobile shine through. With the consent of the consumer, chat bots could re-engage users on a 1:1 basis in a non-intrusive and relevant manner, all in an environment out of reach of the ad-blocking software that threatens to disrupt so much of the brand-consumer relationship. And by offering a smooth path to purchase using integrated commerce options, these bots could be key to helping maintain the bombastic headlines we see every Singles’ Day.

Felim McGrath is Trends Manager at GlobalWebIndex and can be found tweeting at @felimmcgrath.

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