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Alibaba CMO Chris Tung: Pandemic underscores need for merchants to embrace digitalisation

Chris Tung, Chief Marketing Officer, Alibaba Group. (PHOTO: Alibaba)
Chris Tung, Chief Marketing Officer, Alibaba Group. (PHOTO: Alibaba)

SINGAPORE — Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group said the coronavirus pandemic has underscored the need for merchants to accelerate their digitalisation efforts as online sales surge amid lockdowns in markets around the world.

“COVID-19 is a wake-up call for a lot of brands,” Chris Tung, chief marketing officer at Alibaba Group said in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance Singapore. “It is sending a message to retailers that digital transformation is not something they like to have, it is a must have, and must have it now.”

Tung’s comments come as Alibaba ramps up efforts aheads of its 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, the world’s largest online sales event.

Alibaba wants brands to better tap the vast sales opportunities on offer during 11.11, also popularly known as Singles Day, according to Tung. Towards this end, Alibaba introduced its “New Retail” concept over three years ago to enable retailers to seamlessly offer their products online through the blurring of boundaries between brick-and-mortar stores and online shopping, he said.

“We want Double 11 to serve as the growth engine and digitalisation driver for our brand merchants,” Tung said.

Launched in 2009, Singles Day began with just 27 merchants but has since surpassed other mega online sales events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US.

Alibaba is expecting its highest ever consumer turnout during 11.11 with about 800 million users in China, due in part to travel restrictions during the pandemic, according to Tung. About 39 per cent of Chinese consumers plan to spend more on Singles Day this year compared with last year, according to a recent survey by consulting firm AlixPartners.

“People cannot go abroad but they still want to buy. They probably are even more eager to buy something now,” Tung said.

For this year’s event, Alibaba conceptualised 11.11 as such because it is adding a new sales window from 1 to 3 November ahead of the main event on 11 November.

Besides lifestyle super app Alipay, a unit of Ant Group, a number of Alibaba-linked companies will also be participating in the festival including online shopping website Taobao, cross-border e-commerce platform Kaola, travel service provider Fliggy and ticketing platforms Taopiaopiao and Damai.

More than 250,000 brands are participating in the event including over 2,600 new overseas brands, with more than 2 million new products available. Among them, luxury brands such as Prada, Cartier, Balenciaga and Piaget will be joining the event for the first time.

To better cater to Gen Z consumers, there will be more emphasis on street fashion and technology, while big-ticket items such as cars and houses will be on offer for the first time, Tung said.

Two gala programmes will be livestreamed on 31 October and 10 November. Livestreaming is expected to play a bigger role this year with merchants conducting 60 per cent of the sessions. About 400 company executives and 300 celebrities will also hold individual livestreaming sessions.

With the extensive preparations for 11.11 and the impact of the pandemic, Tung is confident that the gross merchandise value (GMV) generated from the event would surpass the US$38.4 billion GMV last year.

But Tung stressed that GMV is not the only metric that Alibaba looks at as it also wants to focus on other indicators of success including sustainable growth of brands and users, introduction of new products, and user satisfaction.

“The GMV number will be huge..That’s not everything now,” Tung said, “Double 11 is about the most strategic period to launch the most important products.”

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