Alibaba's CEO weighs in on China's online shopping fest, which takes place on Wednesday.
Last year, e-commerce giant Alibaba handled over $9 billion in online sales in China on Nov. 11, known there as Singles Day. That’s more than the total U.S. online sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined in 2014.
You may have never heard of it, but Singles Day, which was created in 2009 by Alibaba’s CEO Daniel Zhang to gin up online sales, is the biggest shopping day in the world. Chinese shoppers placed some 278 million orders in the 24-hour period, which takes place on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year.
Alibaba BABA says this year’s Singles Day will include six million products from over 40,000 merchants, and more than 30,000 brands from 25 countries. International brands selling on Alibaba’s online mall Tmall include P&G, Unilever, Burberry, Estee Lauder, Zara, Huggies, Macy’s M , Costco, Apple AAPL , and Nike NKE .
Singles Day, which features big promotions on clothing, cosmetics, and even food, is again likely to set another online spending record on Wednesday. Already China’s post office estimates that Singles Day will lead to nearly 800 million packages being shipped. It’s not just limited to Alibaba pushing Singles Day. Like Cyber Monday in the U.S., online merchants across China participate.
We asked Zhang, who took over as the CEO of Alibaba earlier this year (he was the head of Tmall when he came up with the Single Day idea), what we can expect from this year’s biggest shopping holiday. The following transcript was edited for clarity:
Fortune: How will this year’s Singles Day be different from last year’s 11/11?
First, 11/11 is going global. Chinese consumers will be buying an unprecedented assortment of international brands and products from around the world.
Second, our 11/11 command center will be in Beijing for the first time ever (previously Alibaba hosted Singles Day operations at its headquarters in Hangzhou). We are launching the first step of Alibaba’s globalization strategy from China’s capital because it commands great influence not only across China but also on the global stage.
Third, we will also have more than 180,000 offline retail locations joining 11/11. Fourth, the 11/11 mobile shopping experience will be more sophisticated and engaging than ever before. We are hosting an 11/11 countdown celebration gala that will be televised across China so consumers and their families can share in the start of this national “holiday” together.
Q: What are examples of how online to offline will make an appearance?
Many brands and retailers will be using online and offline ways this 11/11 to provide a richer interactive experience to their customers. For example, customers who purchase products at the Estee Lauder EL Tmall flagship store will be rewarded with complimentary or discounted services at their offline locations in department stores.
Suning retail locations [a brick and mortar electronics company that Alibaba invested $4.6 billion in earlier this year] will offer after-sales services for online consumer electronic purchases at Tmall, and we have integrated Suning’s logistics network and services so that their warehouses will be supporting fulfillment products.
Q: How important are U.S. and European brands to this year’s 11/11?
Chinese consumers associate quality and prestige with American and European brands, and both have very solid presence on 11/11 in response to strong consumer demand. We are especially pleased to be working with numerous agricultural associations across U.S. and Europe to offer the best fresh food on 11/11, which is an excellent opportunity to help let Chinese consumers discover and experience new specialties from around the world.
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