Alibaba’s Seamless Marketing Strategy Helps Smash Online Sales Records

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Sophie Loras

Creating a strong value proposition and personalized mobile content were just some of the ways Alibaba helped push this year’s Chinese Singles Day sales to a record-breaking $9 billion.

China’s November 11 Singles Day shopping sales reached record highs this year. What can marketers learn from the holiday that has turned into the world’s biggest online retail event?

At the end of Tuesday, Alibaba said its Singles Day sales had reached CNY57.1 billion ($9.3 billion) and it had shipped 278 million orders – 43 percent of which were placed on mobile devices. $1 billion of these sales were generated in the first 20 minutes, compared to one hour last year.

The majority of Singles Day sales were generated through Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao online retail sites. However, competitor JD.com also saw record orders of 36 million during the one-day event.

“I don’t think there are many companies in China that can create a day like this where people come to [their] platform to spend money and buy lots of things,” said Joseph Tsai, executive vice chairman of Alibaba Group, speaking at a press conference.

“We are making it easy to do business anywhere and we are helping the merchants on our platform reach consumers in the most efficient way,” he continued.

Alibaba’s Singles Day success was about creating a perception, according to Rupam Borthakur, managing director at Millward Brown Hong Kong and Taiwan, adding that the company was able to offer a strong value proposition of the ultimate deal for a very short period of time.

“They were able to create the sense of ‘you have to buy now’ and the real-time updating of sales created an even stronger perception of ‘I shouldn’t miss out,'” Rupam comments.

This year, domestic Chinese shoppers were also invited to browse products online or visit participating retail stores prior to the event, using their smartphones to scan QR codes and add discounted items to Tmall or Taobao’s virtual shopping carts. Once they had done this, consumers were then able to click a “buy” button to trigger purchases of the merchandise in the carts once the sale began.

Alibaba also introduced software algorithms to predict and display personalized items consumers wanted to see on their mobile phones.

Rupam says for brand owners and especially digital marketers, the journey starts much earlier than the sales day itself, and brands can stay “salient” by creating desire long before the Singles Day begins.

“It is not uncommon to hear of sales of brands dropping in the lead up to Singles Day as consumers wait for the moment of purchase,” comments Rupam.

Mark Tanner, managing director of Shanghai-based online marketing and research agency China Skinny, says brands need a seamless marketing strategy if they want to fully benefit from Singles Day, just as Alibaba appears to have had.

“A seamless marketing strategy includes everything from brand awareness across a variety of social media platforms to a smooth mobile commerce experience, clever campaigns of differentiation, and getting the basics right,” says Tanner.

“Once they have got that all right, it is important for brands to ensure they have everything air tight to cope with a spike. Poor service or slow delivery can result in negative reviews, which can really affect a brand’s results in searches going forward,” he adds.

Last year Alibaba Group claimed $5.7 billion worth of goods were sold on shopping platforms Tmall and Taobao, making the event bigger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.