Massive delivery challenges ahead for Singles Day 2018

Alibaba and its partner retailers will face a massive challenge ensuring flawless delivery of millions of parcels all over China and beyond given the expectations of further growth on Singles Day 2018 next week.

“As the event grows, the logistics challenge becomes bigger and bigger,” observes retail analyst Pascal Martin, partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants.

“During last year’s event 812 million parcels were delivered just on Tmall. Observers are betting that this year’s milestone might be more than 1 billion parcels.”

And, says Martin, although brands don’t like to talk about it, there is also a huge challenge in taking care of large quantities of returned goods.

“11.11 is a massive test bed for Alibaba’s backbone infrastructure: the network of partners that make it all possible, from payment to delivery to data management, as well as AI and cloud technologies that are put to work to ensure a successful event.”

Alibaba’s Cainiao Smart Logistics Network says it has upgraded its technology to cope with the expected increased volumes from 11.11 this year. The company boasts more than 30 million sqm of warehousing worldwide and a logistics field force of more than 3 million people.

Domestically, Cainiao has opened a new robotic warehouse, expanded its Internet of Things (IoT) systems and built out its platform’s last-mile reach. For cross-border deliveries, more than 1000 shipping containers and 51 charter planes are booked, ready to speed orders across the world.

Cainiao VP Ben Wang says while nobody knows how many orders Singles Day 2018 will generate, the logistics company needs to keep upgrading systems, anticipating growth and seeking higher efficiency, because of customer expectations.

“It was only five years ago that parcel orders surpassed 100 million for the first time. Back then it took nine days to deliver the first 100 million parcels,” said Wang. “Last year, it took less than three days (2.8 days) to deliver the same number of parcels. Consumers increasingly want faster, better delivery, so that’s what we’re doing. This year, we’re striving to achieve a new high, leveraging the beauty of scale and technology.”

Delivery “within minutes”

Cainiao’s preparations this year also reflect the changing demands of logistics in the New Retail era. For the first time, goods ordered during 11.11 will be delivered directly from stores to customers during the Festival – sometimes within minutes. Short-distance delivery services will be available in more than 280 cities.

“Cainiao is the logistics backbone of Alibaba’s New Retail strategy,” Wang said. “We are providing an online and offline, cross-platform supply-chain solution to merchants and enabling them to cut inventory costs, while increasing operating efficiency, especially around 11.11 ­– the busiest season of the year. Ultimately, consumers will enjoy a brand-new shopping experience, as delivery service will always be on-demand.”

Martin expects Singles Day 2018 to include more partners, not only online but also offline, leveraging Alibaba’s New Retail ecosystem. For example, Tmall 3000+ convenience stores, Hema and RT Mart supermarkets, Suning and Auchan, will be fully integrated into the event.

The event will also be expanding beyond China through Lazada, the Southeast Asia online platform owned by Alibaba.

“We expect to see participation of an increasing number of international brands that are taking advantage of the Tmall Global platform – number one by far among Chinese cross-border platforms – to get introduced to Chinese consumers without any direct presence in China for many of them.”

And diversification will be another key factor in this year’s event, he says.

“It’s not just about purchasing products, it’s also increasingly about purchasing a variety of services, from videos on Youku to mobile games on UC, theatre tickets on Taopiaopiao, music on Xiami music, travel on Feizhu, etc… All of this will not happen without challenges.”

Yet another test, says Martin, is for Alibaba to expand the event beyond its group companies.

“Right now, most of the non-Tmall companies participating in the 11.11 event are Alibaba Group companies. Getting non-group companies to embark on the 11.11 band wagon will be the next step to sustain continued growth of the event in future years.

“Finally, to keep the event fresh and exciting, Alibaba will need to continue to surprise increasingly demanding Chinese consumers with entertainment and festivals to delight them around the event. 11.11 has become much more than a commercial fair, it is now a major annual milestone in China’s cultural calendar.”

Last year’s 11.11 event saw GMV reach 254 billion RMB (US$36.6 billion) including 168 billion RMB on Tmall alone. That turnover represented a 43.5 per cent increase over the 2016 GMV.

Singles Day 2018 will mark the event’s 10th anniversary.

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