New Retail tech is backbone of Singles’ Day for Alibaba

Alibaba unit Cainiao’s new smart warehouse is powered by robots and IoT. (Image credit: Alibaba) 

Singles’ Day, the world’s largest shopping spree, takes place this weekend. Alibaba Group will use the event, which is also known as Double 11, to showcase New Retail technology on an unprecedented scale, while also making a consumption push to more markets outside of China.

Technology is really taking a front row seat in this year’s event to “gamify” consumers’ shopping experience and to showcase its successful integration of online and offline channels to bring operation efficiency. Over the year, Alibaba has transformed multiple store fronts into smart stores with the application of virtual reality (VR) technology, facial recognition, artificial intelligence, virtual fitting and artificial intelligence.

These technology applications are crucial to bring a new shopping experience to consumers. On the other hand, the e-commerce company is transforming the stores to improve operation efficiency for online and offline channels. In a maturing e-commerce market with exponential growth over the past years, the pure online growth could be slowed and Alibaba will need to seek growth from offline channels to deliver its extraordinary growth trajectory.

Alibaba introduced the concept of New Retail in last year’s Double 11 when it launched 60 pop-up stores with New Retail features in 12 Chinese cities. New Retail is a term used to describe a seamless integration of online and offline shopping experience with an emphasis on in-store technology, digitized retail operations and mobile payments.

This year, around 100 Hema supermarkets—Alibaba’s signature cross-channel New Retail venture—will be turned into 11.11-themed stores to provide customers with a convenient, fun and smooth shopping experience.

Along with the Hema outlets, approximately 400 RT-Mart supermarkets, an Alibaba-invested hypermarket chain partly owned by the Taiwan-based company Ruentex Group, will also feature the 11.11 theme and provide shoppers with New Retail services—for example, customers who are within a three-kilometer radius of any of these supermarkets will enjoy one-hour delivery services.

Last year, around 100,000 stores in 34 cities across China were converted into smart stores by incorporating advanced technologies—such as cloud shelves, RFID (radio frequency identification) technology, product vending machines, facial recognition payment and scan-and-deliver shopping—to offer an upgraded shopping experience for consumers.

When customers enter a smart store, they can first read about the product information on a LED screen upon picking up any item. If they like the product, they can add it to their Tmall or Taobao cart on the respective mobile apps and take it home after paying through Alipay or request delivery service instead. This year, the number of smart stores has been doubled to 200,000, and New Retail continues to infuse fun elements into shoppers’ experience.

Logistics gets tech boost too

At home, tech will also be applied to boost logistics efficiency. Cainiao Network expects to process a record high of 1 billion delivery orders this year’s Double 11, a jump from last year’s 812 million orders.

The company will also use newly developed IoT-enabled surveillance cameras to closely monitor the thousands of logistics centers and facilities across the country on November 11. The smart surveillance cameras will send real-time alerts when situations arise, efficiently monitoring the numerous logistics centers and the high traffic during the Singles’ Day period.

To cope with the enormous demand for delivery services, Cainiao Network has opened China’s largest robot warehouse in Wuxi, a city in eastern China. The warehouse is equipped with 700 robots that can fulfill an order and deliver it to a location in the warehouse for pick-up by one of the 15 major Chinese express-courier companies that Cainiao has partnered with to support this year’s Double 11. The automated process will save time and speed up parcel handling.

With 180,000 global and Chinese brands participating, the event this year will have a much wider global reach than its preceding editions.

AliExpress, Alibaba’s international e-commerce platform, has extended this year’s Double 11 by a day—from 00:00  (Sydney time), November 11 to 23:59 (Sydney time), November 12—in order to cover all time zones around the world.

Lazada, an Alibaba-controlled e-commerce platform operator headquartered in Singapore, will also run its first Double 11 in six countries: Singapore; Malaysia; Thailand; Indonesia; the Philippines; and Vietnam.

During the event, the company will offer the biggest discounts of the year to its customers on the Lazada marketplace and its sister platform, LazMall. Given Lazada is the most popular online marketplace in Southeast Asia with a wide range of product categories, its participation in the Singles’ Day will further consolidate Alibaba’s foothold in the Southeast Asian market.

To accelerate the speed of parcel delivery across continents, AliExpress and Cainiao Network have collaborated to set up several additional overseas warehouses and operate several intercontinental flight routes dedicated to e-commerce deliveries. For example, the two companies will deploy 19 small airplanes and two Boeing 747s exclusively for e-commerce cargo flights to Russia and such enhanced logistics which will ensure 72-hour delivery within Europe during the event.

This Singles’ Day, with the continuous use of advanced technologies from smart stores, surveillance cameras to robot warehouses, online and offline commerce will be harmoniously joined to amplify New Retail synergies.