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China’s Singles Day is five times bigger than Black Friday … and it’s all down to Cloud and AI

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Regular readers of the blog know that I’m a fanboy of Alibaba and their financial firm Ant Financial which operates Alipay, the major payments system of China. On November 11, they had their Singles Day jamboree. The equivalent in China of Black Friday, some say, but more than five times bigger*.

The figures this year are stunningly impressive:

  • $38 billion of sales ($38.4 to be exact) compared with $30 billion in 2018 and $25 billion in 2017
  • $1 billion of sales in the first 68 seconds compared with 90 seconds in 2018 and two minutes in 2017
  • 544,000 sales per second compared with 256,000 in 2018
  • 97% delivered in under four days

It’s an amazing feat of scale and technology as all of this took place with zero downtime thanks to its cloud infrastructure and artificial intelligence (AI) technology, Alibaba Cloud said in a statement following the event.

From The South China Morning Post (owned by Alibaba):

  • Alibaba’s third-generation X-Dragon cloud architecture used servers that were seamlessly integrated with computing platforms, helping it process large volumes of transactions with zero downtime.
  • At its peak, the company’s Apsara Operating System supported a record 544,000 orders per second using advanced data processing and analytic capabilities.
  • Despite the record sales, energy consumption at Alibaba’s data centre dropped 70 per cent from the previous year, saving more than 200,000 kilowatt hours of energy on Singles’ Day using cooling technologies developed by Alibaba Cloud.
  • The machine translation service for Alibaba’s cross-border e-commerce platform, AliExpress, was used 1.66 billion times during the shopping festival with over 200 billion words translated in different languages.
  • More than one million orders were placed and processed through voice command using smart speaker Tmall Genie, “a sign that voice shopping has become an increasingly popular trend among Chinese consumers” according to Alibaba Cloud.

This was partly the focus on Alibaba overall, with their recent $11 billion Hong Kong listing valuing the company at over half a trillion dollars – $513 billion to be exact –  and all driven by their technology prowess as tech and FinTech leader.

Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang Yong said he remains focused on the long term and empowering people through technology.

“Today, because of digital technology, we can enable people and our merchants to do business in a digital way. We are able to help traditional companies transform themselves into a digital, data-driven company,” Zhang told The South China Morning Post. “That was our mission from day one. We have a huge digital infrastructure and we want to use this for good, rather than just build scale”. He specifically notes that “all of our core technologies today are self-developed, such as Apsara (their cloud service), and that is a testament to our digital capabilities.”

He continues:

Cloud infrastructure is critical to the future of society – in fact, all future businesses will need the cloud to generate and collect data and then analyse that data to create value. And this requires computing power and efficiency.”

One key trend has been the rise of the rural consumer. Spending by shoppers in the country’s second- and third-tier cities have increased as more Chinese consumers have become affluent.

“Consumer internet penetration in rural areas and communities is very important. In the past year, 70 per cent of our new customers came from lower tier cities in China. Due to lifestyle changes we once again saw consumer buying behaviour change.”

He also noted how behaviours are changing with new technologies:

“New technologies means that consumer behaviour changes – just like the desktop to mobile internet switch. Voice shopping is a very important new entry point from the physical world to the digital world and we were very happy to see more and more young consumers use voice shopping through Tmall Genie.”



* Black Friday this year is estimated to generate $7.4 billion of sales in America comapreed with Singles Day’s $38.4 billion

Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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