Friday, 04 December 2020 10:54

Alibaba explains the magic of successfully hosting the world’s biggest global shopping festival


Alibaba Cloud is the digital technology and intelligence backbone of the Alibaba Group, and has revealed the cutting-edge tech rolled out in support of the 2020 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, which included a massive amount of greener cloud-native computing power run on hyper-scale data centres, livestreaming, live translations, 3D virtual tools, virtual sales assistants and plenty more!

Founded in 2009, and in Australia since January 2017, Alibaba Cloud has grown from humble beginnings to a global provider of reliable and secure cloud computing, data processing and artificial intelligence capabilities. Not only does Alibaba continue its role, since Jan ’17, as the official cloud services partner of the Olympic Games, but is responsible for the digital magic behind the massively huge 11.11 global shopping festival, which this year was at its biggest yet!

In 2008, the company didn’t exist, but in November 2020, the company is not only the No.1 cloud service in China with a 42.4% market share, according to IDC, it is the No.1 provider in Asia Pacific, it’s ranked third in terms of global IaaS market share, has 70+ security accreditations, saw peak orders hit 583,000 transactions per second after just 26 seconds of 11.11 shopping began, handled 1.7 exabytes per day of data during the 11 day festival, and much, much more.

This year’s 11.11 festival generated RMB498.2 billion (US$74.1 billion) in GMV or “gross merchandise value” over an 11-day period, was made possible by Alibaba Cloud infrastructure upgrades.

The company explains that just 26 seconds after midnight on November 11, when shopping began, peak orders hit 583,000 per second: an incredible 1,400 times the peak volume at the festival’s debut, 12 years ago, on November 11 2009.

Before we get to more of the magic behind running 11.11, just how big has 11.11 become? Strap yourself in and prepare for some eye opening information!

It’s not called a Global Shopping Festival for nothing, that’s for sure, as it is THE biggest online shopping event in the world, with 2020 seeing over 250,000 brands, including 31,000 overseas brands, generating a total gross merchandise volume (GMV) of RMB498.2 billion (A$103.2 billion) - up from just 27 merchants during the first 11.11 event back in 2009!

You also know the festival is BIG when it has over 800 million consumers participating globally, making the opportunity for brands absolutely enormous.

How can Australian brands benefit?

Australian and New Zealand brands are benefitting from our “clean and green” goods and services, and as such, our part of the world is popular with shoppers looking for health and wellness products, food and wine, products for mum and baby, while even pet food and home living products are also becoming popular.

Alibaba advises the best platform for A/NZ brands new to the China market is "Tmall Global", while those with a local Chinese entity and inventory in China can sell through the main Tmall platform. We’re also told that “Tmall Fresh” is the platform for fresh food brands, while "Lazada" is the major online shopping platform for Southeast Asia, and that “overseas brands tend to launch on one platform, and then expand to more platforms over time”.

An interesting thing about the modern world, which blends in the virtual so much more effortlessly these days than ever before, is Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma describing “new retail”, which is what 11.11 is today, as “the blending of online and offline shopping”.

The rise of ‘new retail’ has meant that merchants now hold offline activities as well, and have thus seen a big uplift in overall sales as a result, with a relevant Australian example being Chemist Warehouse.

The beloved Australian drug store “leveraged its brand awareness from selling on Tmall Global to open its first bricks-and-mortar store in China last year, where it kicked off its Singles’ Day campaign with great success. The pharmacy has been Alibaba’s top international merchant for a few years running. Overall, Australia represents the fourth biggest country selling to China by GMV (or gross merchandise value)”, which if you ask me personally, is very impressive, and despite international trade tensions, shows that Australian products and services are still very popular with the Chinese people themselves.

Livestreaming and its benefits

Now, a part of “new retail” is the ability to do things in new and better ways than before, and a huge factor in this is live-streaming, which has become a major sales driver in China. It has long been predicted that video is going to be massively popular online, and as fixed, wireless and mobile broadband has become ever faster, it’s no surprise to see video is more prominent and important than it has ever been.

Alibaba tells us that “influencers and key opinion leaders, or KOLs, share live videos of themselves demonstrating products, talking about their knowledge of different brands and taking questions from followers in a fun and entertaining way”, with even city and village officials now using live-streaming to promote the specialties of their regions”.

As you’d expect, Alibaba’s live-streaming platform, Taobao Live, is now “one of the main platforms used by brands and KOLs in China, and it has become an important part of the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival.

Alibaba explains: “During Covid-19, many KOLs teamed up with movie stars and other celebrities to drive even more traffic to Taobao Live. And this year, Alibaba enabled merchants to conduct live-streaming at their bonded warehouses for additional transparency into the supply chain”.

Of course, COVID-19 accelerated 11.11 and online shopping across the industry and the world in 2020 to new levels, also due to the combination of bricks-and-mortar store closures and international travel bans, and Alibaba’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival clearly benefited from that. GMV in 2020 was 26% higher than 2019 from 1 to 11 November.

Add to this the event also running for longer this year than ever before, with the addition of a new sales window for new brands and small businesses from November 1-3, an opportunity to showcase their products and tell their brand stories - especially helpful this sector, which has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic.

While the future of in-store shopping and international travel is rests upon a vaccine or vaccines that work properly and well, there’s no question that online shopping is here to stay, and with the number of online and cyber week sales happening as I type, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more online records being broken.

So, what about the magic behind keeping all of that infrastructure upgraded and running smoothly, so that it effortlessly scaled and handled the biggest 11.11 event yet?

Well, we start with Li Cheng, the CTO of Alibaba Group, who said: “We were very proud to support 800 million consumers and 250,000 brands during the world’s largest shopping festival.

“From the robust digital infrastructure supporting zero downtime operation, to cloud-native offerings for developers’ efficiencies and consumer-facing applications for creating some of smoothest engagement experiences, Alibaba’s technologies have once again passed the toughest tests with flying colours.”

We’re told that Alibaba’s real-time computing platform is powered by Apache Flink and that it “processed data streams totalling 4 billion items per second during peak time, a considerable surge from 2.5 billion last year.

“MaxCompute, Alibaba’s proprietary data warehousing platform, handled up to 1.7 exabytes (an exabyte is equal to 1 billion gigabytes) of data a day during the 11-day festival from November 1 to 11, equivalent to processing 230 high-res photos of each of the 7 billion people in the world. Despite the extreme scalability and high performance required, no downtime was reported throughout this year’s extended festival period.

“Leveraging cloud-native databases, including PolarDB, AnalyticDB and Lindorm, Alibaba Cloud enabled 11.11 to run smoothly even during peak periods. PolarDB set a new record with 140 million queries per second during peak time at 11.11, a 60% increase from last year.

“AnalyticDB, Alibaba Cloud’s self-developed cloud native data warehouse, processed up to 7.7 trillion lines of real-time data, equaling 15 times the data contained in the UK Web Archive at the British Library. In addition, PolarDB-X and AnalyticDB helped China Post to deal with more than 100 million orders during 11.11, with about 100,000 China Post users checking their parcels’ real-time status online”.

There’s plenty more information below, including two more videos showcasing the virtual tours and the virtual anchor salespeople available to merchants, along with a great infographic at the end of this article that illustrates just how successful 11.11 was from a technological point of view, as well as from a sales point of view for merchants and their global customers.

Alibaba's on-demand event explaining the festival's success, for western audiences:

On November 12, Alibaba held a live event, created for western audiences, entitled "Understanding 11.11: Alibaba’s Mega Shopping Festival", which you can freely watch here after free registration. The event goes for just over an hour, and is "tailored for Western audiences to learn about the opportunities of the Chinese consumer market and how to succeed there".

The event features:

  • Alibaba Group Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai and President Michael Evans
  • Founders and CEOs of major global brands
  • Small businesses new to 11.11
  • One of China’s hottest livestreamers
  • LIVE results and behind-the-scenes access

You can watch the event here

So, what are more highlights from this year’s technologies and innovations?

This information comes direct from Alibaba, so here we go!

More engaging experience for consumers

“Livestreaming took centre stage at this year’s 11.11, which saw tens of thousands of livestreams broadcast on Taobao Live. Leveraging Alibaba Cloud’s narrow-bandwidth and high-definition video solutions, such as its Real-time Streaming (RTS) technology to reduce latency to less than one second (approximately 75% lower than the industry average), the smooth livestreaming experience with dynamic interactions is also proven to be effective in boosting sales.

“By leveraging Alibaba DAMO Academy’s (DAMO) latest multi-module technology - including Natural Language Processing (NLP), image recognition, Text-to-Speech (TTS) and cloud rendering - Taobao Live launched its virtual anchor service for merchants. Virtual anchors can explain product details, respond to some inquiries and even play games with the audience during livestreaming sessions, while the human anchors are on break resting (usually from midnight to early morning).

Alibaba's video showcases virtual salespeople anchors on Taobao Live:

“AliExpress, Alibaba’s global retail marketplace, unveiled the world’s first real-time livestreaming translation feature on an e-commerce platform powered by DAMO’s innovative speech model, supporting simultaneous translation from Chinese to English, Russian, Spanish and French. During 11.11, over 70% of the AliExpress merchants leveraged this translation capability, which can also reduce inaudibility in noisy livestreaming environment and even understand accented speech. Eight million global viewers watched over 9,000 livestreams on AliExpress during the festival.

“Virtual tours with 3D visuals was available on Taobao to sell big-ticket items like houses and furniture. Underpinned by machine learning technologies like Graph Neural Networks (GNN), Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN), 3D shape analysis and knowledge graphs, Alibaba offered a 3D modeling design platform for brands, reducing the time for model creation from three hours to 10 seconds. Merchants leveraged the technology to create over 100,000 showrooms with virtual 3D products that was experienced by 60 million consumers during the festival”.

Cloud-native technologies reduced need for computing resources by 80%

“In addition to the benefits generated by the company’s proprietary solutions such as MaxCompute, PolarDB, AnalyticDB mentioned above, Alibaba Cloud also supported one of the world’s largest container clusters, enabling the upscaling to one million containers in an hour. The optimal elasticity and scheduling capacity enabled by the cutting-edge cloud-native technologies led to an 80% reduction of computing resources for every 10,000 transactions conducted compared to four years ago”.

Digital infrastructure with hyper-scale data centrws made 11.11 greener

“Alibaba used state-of-the-art green technologies - including liquid cooling and wind energy – at its five hyper-scale data centres to ensure the most environmentally-friendly operation during 11.11. For instance, the hyper-scale data centre in Hangzhou has one of the world’s largest server clusters submerged in a specialised liquid coolant, which quickly chills the IT hardware.

“This reduces energy consumption by over 70%, while its Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) approaches the ideal target of 1.0. Compared to traditional data centres, the Hangzhou hyper-scale data centre can save up to 70 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which is sufficient to power over 16,000 households in the United Kingdom in a year’.

Here is Alibaba's video on its "Hyper Scale Data Centres":

100% core systems on cloud-native technologies

“Last year’s festival saw Alibaba Group confidently migrate 100% of its core systems onto Alibaba Cloud, the world’s third largest cloud service provider. The global technology leader continued to push and challenge the technological limits with its cloud-native innovation, which has yielded double the efficiency of scalable application delivery”.

More information on the event is available here from Alibaba's Alizila news service.

Here is Alibaba's infographic:


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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