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Singles' Day Technology Alibaba

Singles Day: applying AI can maximize a major retail event for smaller brands

By Magic Tu, Product Manager

October 29, 2018 | 5 min read

Singles Day - once the domain of just Alibaba, when it turned the ‘anti-Valentine’s Day’ into a retail event in 2009 - has become a global shopping phenomenon. Brands and retailers beyond China take advantage of November 11 to attract customers with major deals and discounts. In 2017, Singles Day blew through records, leading to US$23.5 billion in sales in 24 hours, 40% higher than 2016 and with most transactions made on mobile.

China Sales

The big boys of retail, Alibaba,, have no trouble attracting shoppers to explore deals. However, with people primed to spend money on Singles Day, there is an opportunity for small and medium-sized brands and retailers to garner awareness and attract new customers.

As a smaller brand, how do you break through the noise? How do you reach the right people not just on the day, but in the run-up, so that customers are ready to visit you on 11.11 to buy your products?

The key is to approach prospective customers with the goal of nurturing relationships. You can offer great deals on Singles Day, but you want to show commitment to a longer-term relationship, one where you will continue to offer products and services when customers want and need them most.

Smaller brands, who must watch their budgets more closely than larger players, must aim for quality over quantity. During a retail event such as Singles Day, even though the potential reach and increased visibility is huge, smaller brands may not be able to maintain a huge number of critical customer relationships afterwards. To spend budget most wisely, identify the most relevant audience and focus entirely on it. The 80/20 rule applies: spend 80% of your budget on 20% of the most valuable customers.

Automated tools, rooted in artificial intelligence (AI) technology, are a critical part of effectively nurturing customers, before, during and after a retail event. Thanks to the advancement of AI, particularly natural language processing, marketers can automate the ‘audience finding’ flow.

The first step is to build a holistic view of the ideal customer profile by connecting the internet footprint of shoppers across all the devices they use. Retailers need to uncover insights on what shoppers are looking for outside their own app or site, to see customer tendencies towards other products, brands, and content, and how recently and frequently they look at them. This kind of precision powers the 80/20 rule, allowing for more accurate, and possibly larger, spend per person.

Audience precision is just half the story, however. Continuous engagement with customers to increase their ‘lifetime value’ is critical to justify the discounts offered on Singles Day. Using marketing automation tools to know the audience and provide the most personalized customer journey for each person reduces the pressure on marketers to drive big revenues from the investment into Singles Day.

Beware of over-reliance on AI, however. It’s important to be extremely clear on the value of what you’re selling when showcasing a deal to customers. Your key messages about your product should not revolve just around the price point. This is where ‘human intelligence’ is still critical. You can determine if your product is unique and if it will evoke emotion or a feeling of desire that makes people want it. This, coupled with accurate targeting, is effective in attracting customers and keeping them engaged long after Singles Day, Christmas, Chinese New Year and any other time when you catch their attention.

Magic Tu is VP of product management at Appier.

Singles' Day Technology Alibaba

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