Alibaba kicks off Singles’ Day shopping festival, aims to drive people offline

China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba kicked off its annual “Singles’ Day” shopping spree—China’s equivalent of Black Friday—today. This year will mark the first time that Alibaba’s merchants and consumers get a taste of “new retail,” a term founder Jack Ma coined to depict the increasingly blurring boundaries between the online and offline shopping worlds.

Started as a 24-hour online sale, Alibaba’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival—as it is officially called—has evolved into a 24-day festival season to celebrate the country’s orgy of consumption. The Festival smashed its own record by racking up 120.7 billion RMB (approximately $17.8 billion) in gross merchandise volume (GMV) within 24 hours last year, eclipsing the $2.74 billion generated online during the US’s Black Friday sales in the same year.

That number was projected onto a large screen, live-streamed in real time to millions around the country last year. But Alibaba is seeking something else this time: How many customers it’s able to drive away from their computers to physical retail stores. As such the giant is partnering with 52 shopping malls to set up 60 pop-up stores across 12 cities in China during the Festival, a spokesperson says.

Alibaba is also turning nearly 100,000 stores in 334 cities into the so-called “smart stores” where consumers get to try out its facial recognition-powered payment solution, an area being cracked by all of China’s trio of tech giants: Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. The stores will also be equipped with the “scan-and-deliver O2O shopping” feature, which Alibaba has been trailing with its fullest expression of new retail, the Hema stores. Scan the barcode of an item, pay via Alibaba’s Alipay, and the store will have a shopper’s purchase delivered home.

Other e-commerce players, including Alibaba’s arch-rival JD.com, will also have their own campaigns during the shopping season. JD.com has initiated the 618 Festival, which falls on mid-year and is also joined by other online retailers.