Alibaba’s 11.11 Shopping Festival takes a new direction in 2020

Nov 05, 2020

GDR’s John O’Sullivan explores how small brands, hyper-local offers and luxury will make this year’s hotly-anticipated 11.11 Shopping Festival unlike any before.

In recent years Alibaba’s livestream-powered 11.11 Shopping Festival has cemented its place as the most innovative and profitable shopping festival in the world. Last year’s event (read more here) sold its first billion in USD in just 68 seconds, while the 1.3 billion orders received was an increase of 59% compared to the previous record-breaking event in 2018. Overall sales also rose by 26% to RMB 268.4 billion year-on-year. To put these eye-watering figures into context, the gross merchandising value of the 2019 festival ($24.6 billion) was greater than the combined online retail sales in the US across Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday in 2019.

As always, this year’s event is anticipated to be bigger than ever, with 800 million consumers expected to engage with more than 250,000 brands across the festival, which now lasts for three weeks. However, this year’s event, inspired by the pandemic experience, has been optimised to better meet the changing needs of consumers and brands, promising a bigger focus on small brands, luxury and hyper-local offers, backed by astute supply chain shifts.


The year of the small brand

Bissell Floor Care on Tmall Global

While previous 11.11 Shopping Festivals have been unashamedly built around the world’s mega-brands, this year’s event is being billed by Alibaba as the year of the small brand, and particularly smaller overseas brands. Since last year’s festival 2,600 overseas brands have joined Alibaba’s Tmall Global ecommerce platform, where they can livestream to Chinese audiences all day, every day.

With China expected to eclipse the US as the world’s biggest retail market this year, according to eMarketer, one of Alibaba’s big 11.11 initiatives is to give small US businesses, traditionally priced out of Tmall Global, the chance to enjoy its benefits. To do this it launched Pitch Fest where 100 US-based SMEs put forward their case for why their livestream product launch should be part of the festival. The nine successful brands were paired with Chinese-based partners, who will carry out livestreams in Chinese studios on their behalf to present the products in a relevant way for local audiences.

“U.S. small and medium-sized businesses are facing challenges during this unprecedented time, but we know they are resilient and looking for growth opportunities,” said Tony Shan, head of Tmall Global for the Americas. “We hope to inspire and enable many small and medium-sized U.S. brands to grow their business and broaden their customer base while also bringing more high-quality American products to consumers in China.”

Another way that Alibaba is trying to demystify 11.11 for an international audience this year is via a live broadcast called “Understanding 11.11: Alibaba’s Mega Shopping Festival”. The virtual event will coincide with the last 30 minutes of the Shopping Festival sales window on 11 November and will include interviews with Alibaba’s Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai and President Michael Evans, and brands and influencers taking part for the first time. It’s open to brands, media and retail industry analysts, and those interested can book their space here.


Amplified luxury offer


While ecommerce and luxury might not be considered natural bedfellows, two platforms that buck this trend are Tmall Luxury Pavilion, which now has more than 200 leading luxury and designer brands on it, and its sister site aimed at a younger audience, Luxury Soho. Building on the success of these sites, another key point that Alibaba is trying to make to the international audience this year is that, unlike Western shopping holidays, 11.11 isn’t just about discounting, it has become a new product launch occasion for luxury brands.

This year more than 200 luxury brands will be taking part and newcomers like Cartier, Montblanc and high-end German appliances brand Gaggenau will be using it as an opportunity to introduce their premium products to the Chinese audience via exclusive livestream launches. As Dr. Alexander G.C. Dony, President of Greater China of BSH Home Appliances Group, puts it: “11.11 is not just about shoppers who look for attractive deals, but also shoppers who look for the finest things in life.”


Hyper-local and DTC offers

One of the key features of pandemic-era retail this year, and a big strength of Alibaba’s data-powered retail approach in recent years, has been the development of hyper local offers and marketplaces that meet the specific needs of consumers in disparate places. Alibaba is really doubling down on this approach during this year’s 11.11 Shopping Festival where nearly 2 million local service providers will be offering special promotions across more than 100 cities.

Another way Alibaba is connecting customers to new products this year is through the first integration between the 11.11 Shopping Festival and the price conscious DTC Taobao Deals app. The platform connects consumers directly with manufacturers and factories, and during the summer’s 6.18 Mid-Year Shopping Festival more than 200 manufacturers are said to have made in excess of RMB 1million ($150,000) worth of sales through Taobao Deals.

The addition of new features like these will help bring two million new products to this year’s 11.11 event.


Supply chain optimisations

Beyond local and DTC sales channels, Alibaba has also fine-tuned a few other aspects of the 11.11 Shopping Festival to help it fulfil the vast number of orders it will receive. Alibaba’s logistics arm Cainiao, for example, has chartered 700 flights for 11 November to help it meet demand.

More noticeable from the customer’s point of view is the extension of the festival itself. Having started in 2009 as a one-day event featuring just 27 brands, this year’s event spans three weeks, which includes two different sales periods. It officially started on 21 October when the first Pre-Sale phase got underway allowing customers to browse the deals and pre-load their baskets, while smaller brands could start their livestreaming and product launches. Products were available to buy during the Phase 1 Sale between 1-3 November, before Phase 2 of the Pre-Sale between 4-10 November builds up the anticipation ahead of the final 24-hour sales window on 11 November featuring the festival’s usual “mega-brands”, which last year included Apple, Bose, Gap, H&M, L’Oréal, Nike and Uniqlo.

Tmall and Taobao President Jiang Fan told media the reason for this year’s extended sales period is to give brands, and particularly SMEs, more exposure and opportunities to reach consumers, while also ensuring a better, faster fulfilment experience.


Stay tuned to over the coming news to find out more about the innovations at this year’s 11.11 Shopping Festival 2020.

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