While Singles Day 2017 wasn't limited to China, a Southeast Asia-focused platform saw sales grow 171% y-o-y to USD 123 million (4), China-based platforms demonstrated a series of innovations to create unique customer experiences and drive user traffic during the festival, and here are six examples:
- Integrated online content and ordering: Online video shows broadcast during the festival offered products that could be ordered through online 'click-and-buy' features or through smartphone linked apps (5). For example, smartphone viewers could shake their phone when they saw a product they wanted and the app would automatically present product and ordering information.
- Online games and discounts: Customer engagement through social media ramped up a notch, with TMall running a 'Catch the Cat' Pokemon-style game where players could earn virtual discount coupons when they find a TMall cat mascot in designated shopping locations (6).
- Automated warehousing: Mainland China operators announced new robot-driven warehouses in time for the festival (7). Applying automation can provide significant efficiencies, with a recent study of Amazon's US operations showing that automation cut click-to-shipping times from between 60 to 75 minutes to 15 minutes (8).
- Virtual reality and face recognition payments: By applying new technology, a China-based platform gave shoppers the opportunity to visit offline stores, scan QR codes for product information, use virtual reality programs to try on clothes, pay via facial recognition software, and have their orders automatically delivered.
- AI-powered customer service functions: Chatbots made an entry this year, with one leading operator introducing a online, AI-powered program that it said could understand approximately 90% of customer enquiries and serve almost 3.5 million users per day (9).
- Drone deliveries: Two major online retailers in China trialled drone delivery services during this year's Singles Day festival, marking a new approach to logistics intended to reduce delivery times and cut delivery costs (10).
This year's innovations followed on from 2016, when one platform launched a virtual-reality powered program that put users in Macy's physical department store and allowed them to try on clothes and buy using a linked-in payment system (11).
Innovative features not only position internet firms to compete for business during major shopping events like Singles Day, but also to benefit from what we expect will be continued growth of online retail in both China and the rest of Asia.