Alibaba To Use Big Data To Spread Singles Day

The Chinese e-commerce giant is looking to grow its international reach


Singles Day has become big business for companies in China and this year has been no different, with a record 91.2 billion yuan ($13.4 billion) spent in the first 15 hours, over 5 times more than the total spent on Cyber Monday by Americans., China’s biggest online direct retailer said it had surpassed last year’s total sales by 1.33pm, which is unsurprising given that online spending in China is predicted to increase by 20% per year and hit $1.6 trillion by 2020.

The day was originally created by students as an anti-valentines day celebration in the mid 1990’s, where they both celebrated being single and also bought presents for other singles to try and start a relationship. Since its inception it has become the biggest online shopping day in the world’s most populous country and we have seen Alibaba, the world’s largest retailer, take center stage of it. This year at its peak, the site was taking 175,000 transactions every second.

However, they are now looking to big data in order to spread this further, not only by inviting world famous celebrities like Katy Perry, Kobe Bryant and David Beckham, but through utilizing big data to help advance into other countries. Next year, for instance, the company is planning on introducing Singles Day to Hong Kong and Taiwan and then spreading throughout South East Asia over the coming years.

It is little surprise that data will sit at the centre of this expansion given that “Alibaba defines itself as a big-data company," according to Zhang Jianfeng who is CTO at the company. They have used this perfectly so far with an estimated 80% market share of e-commerce in China thanks to an approach that sees them looking at customer actions during their stay on the site, combined with huge computing power - according to the company, they processed over 180 PB of data on Singles Day this year. This has created a firm foundation that the company hopes will put them in good stead for the large planned expansion.

Part of this is going to be through the acquisition of existing companies, like its recent purchase of Lazada in Malaysia and Redmart in Singapore, which is an attempt to make the company into an ‘emerging market Amazon’ according to Tech Crunch. This will not only provide them with a local base of knowledge, but also a platform from which to build in new areas. Given the background of these two companies it also allows Alibaba to have access to their data, which will then help with further expansion.

They are also going to begin getting data on customers in new areas through smart marketing techniques. In Hong Kong this year, they offered free shipping to the autonomous territory, attracting more people to use the site and hence create more data to analyze. However, the question of how far they can spread Singles Day beyond South East Asia is questionable, given that Chris Tung, CMO at Alibaba told The Drum that, ‘We want to change it from being about singles day to family fun, where you can buy from global markets. We want it to become a family festival like a Chinese New Year or Christmas…It’s something that people will benchmark with Christmas hopefully.’

Given that the average British family spends £800 ($1000) on the holidays, trying to make Singles Day a festival will be difficult, given than it is 6 week before Christmas Day and therefore right in the middle of the traditional festive shopping period. However, through taking a data-driven approach and given their historical success, who knows what Alibaba could achieve. 

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