Since Alibaba Group’s first 11.11 sales 15 years ago, the world’s largest shopping event has become known as a launchpad for cutting-edge retail tools.
This year will be no different, as digital marketplaces Taobao and Tmall further integrate AI technology for the benefit of merchants and consumers alike.
The two e-commerce platforms, part of Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall Group, have debuted 10 free AI-powered features for merchants as well as a generative AI chatbot named Wenwen to answer users’ queries.
The launches dovetail with a growing emphasis on AI technology across the Hangzhou-based holding company.
In his first memo as group CEO earlier this year, Eddie Wu wrote that the two core strategies for Alibaba going forward will be “User First” and “AI-driven”. Its e-commerce platforms are serving up a smorgasbord of discounts and coupons this year to entice bargain-hunters while supporting merchants and content creators.
All this comes amid a tentative uplift in consumer sentiment, according to some market analysts’ predictions.
Consultancy AlixPartners expects an 18% year-on-year increase in total spending during this year’s 11.11 promotional period based on its recent consumer survey.
Ask, and You Shall Receive
On Taobao, the embedded generative AI application Wenwen – which means asking in Mandarin – is clarifying shoppers’ demands and helping consumers navigate discounts during 11.11.
Since beta launching in September, the tool has been used by over 5 million people, with people asking an average of eight questions each daily.
While not the first large language model created by Alibaba, Wenwen is the first AI application made specifically for the e-commerce industry. It is an example of how platform companies are working to put shoppers first, according to retail expert David Roth.
“The next role for the platform is to be much more consumer-centric,” said the CEO of retail practice The Store-WPP and Chairman of consultancy WPP BAV in an interview with Alizila.
11.11 sales are putting Wenwen’s skills to the test.
As part of its “big promotion mode”, users can enquire about the most cost-effective purchases and receive responses that analyze available 11.11 discounts to help consumers secure the best deal.
AI for Merchants
Just in time for 11.11, merchants on Taobao and Tmall have free access to AI-powered tools to assist with copywriting, customer service, product images and more.
These features will help merchants deliver the low prices expected by shoppers during the promotional season, according to research firm Forrester.
Sellers can select from seven writing styles to create quick product descriptions with one-click publishing available across different channels, or call upon an AI robot to solve simple customer concerns.
Another tool enables merchants to generate images of items in different positions and in different backgrounds to demonstrate a product’s versatility and use.
Meanwhile, a virtual business assistant is on hand to help brands stay on top of trends, sort through sales data to find insights and offer suggestions on product titles.
Taobao and Tmall’s merchants used the AI tools over 1.5 billion times during the run-up to 11.11 and the campaign itself.
Note: the article has been updated to reflect the latest data that the Wenwen chatbot has been used by over five million people, and that the merchant tools have been used over 1.5 billion times