Alibaba Group kicked off the main event for its annual 11.11 Global Shopping Festival at midnight local time on Wednesday, with hopes of exceeding the $38 billion in sales it clocked up last year.
30 minutes into November 11, total gross merchandise volume (GMV) exceeded 372.3 billion yuan — $56 billion — with the number of orders peaking at 583,000 orders per second. The figure from this year is skewed, however, with Alibaba opening up sales for an additional day on November 1 as the company decided to double down on the numbers game.
For context, US online retail sales on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday combined last year totalled $24.6 billion.
By early Wednesday morning, including sales generated on November 1, 13 brands each surpassed 1 billion yuan in GMV and 342 brands, including Apple, L’Oréal, Haier, Estée Lauder, Nike, Huawei, Midea, Lancôme, Xiaomi, and Adidas each surpassed 100 million yuan in GMV.
16 brands selling computers, communications, and consumer electronics products saw sales hit 100 million yuan during the first hour of activity on November 1.
The 11.11 Global Shopping Festival began in 2009 with participation from just 27 merchants as an event for merchants and consumers to raise awareness about the value of online shopping.
This year, 14 million products from 250,000 brands from 89 countries and markets have been up for sale on Tmall. 5,000 brands joined 11.11 for the first time and 2,600 of those are brands from international markets.
Food supplements topped the list of imported products bought by Chinese consumers by GMV so far this year, with skincare products coming in second, followed by infant and toddler milk powder.
Outside of China, consumers are buying mostly from Japan, followed by the United States, Korea, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
Emphasising the importance of technology, in particular through streaming given the global pandemic, Alibaba chief marketing officer Chris Tung said the 2020 Singles Day would feature “different thinking” and “more innovation”.
Merchants have this year been harnessing Alibaba’s virtual anchor technology to keep their livestreaming going for 24/7 on Taobao Live.
The AI-powered avatars, developed by Alibaba’s DAMO research and innovation institute, interact with audiences and answer their questions about consumer products using intelligent cognitive and perception technologies. The virtual anchors tap multi-module algorithms, including natural language processing and speech recognition.
Alibaba said the virtual anchors can not only understand and respond to the audience’s questions, but they can also greet the audience and “perform sophisticated dancing steps”.
“This technology will be applied in more fields in the future,” the company said.