Alibaba Group wrapped up its 6.18 Mid-Year Shopping Festival earlier this month with new record highs across categories, pointing to strong signs of post-pandemic economic recovery in the world’s second-largest economy.
We sat down with Liu Bo, who oversaw the event and heads up Tmall and Taobao marketing and operations, as he talked about trends in livestreaming, shifts in consumer behavior after Covid-19 and how the health crisis has made this year’s 6.18 a particularly meaningful one.
This interview has been translated from Mandarin and edited for length and clarity.
What’s the significance of this year’s 6.18 Mid-Year Shopping Festival for consumers and merchants?
On Tmall, we’ve seen consumer activity and merchants’ sales growth gradually return to normal, healthy levels. At this juncture, 6.18 offered an opportunity for brands and merchants to make up lost ground and find new avenues of growth following the outbreak. We wanted to do all we could as a platform to support merchants and even ramped up efforts that went beyond what we achieved during last year’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival. Ahead of the campaign, we worked with many merchants early on to help them efficiently allocate their resources and products for 6.18 promotions. We also put a special emphasis on communicating and engaging with consumers to help them really see the actual value and benefits the campaign would offer them. Through leveraging resources across Alibaba’s ecosystem, the campaign has brought positive impact to consumers and manufacturers impacted by the pandemic and bring sectors closer to recovery. That’s why 6.18, more than ever, carried a significant meaning this year.
What sets Tmall apart from other shopping destinations that have launched promotions to celebrate 6.18?
Whether it’s the number of participating merchants, the variety of products, the range of discounts and deals on offer or the consumer engagement, Tmall has maintained leadership in all of these areas. Many brands now manage their Tmall flagship stores as they would for their own e-commerce websites. Among those brands is Apple, which partnered with Tmall this year to directly offer special deals to consumers. We want consumers to truly feel that they’re getting a bargain. For example, we launched a money-back guarantee scheme for the event, so consumers could seek refunds if they see products’ prices drop soon after their purchase.
I don’t think it’s that meaningful just to compare the gross merchandise volumes of different platforms. What’s even more important is that Tmall has the capacity to provide merchants with stronger operational capabilities, tools and analytics – this can help fuel an upgrade of their digital operations as well as improve their brand value. For us, it’s more than just sales figures – it’s about setting new standards in this industry.
During 6.18, did you spot any signs of economic rebound for sectors hit by Covid-19?
Consumers mostly stayed indoors at the height of the pandemic, leading to a decline in apparel purchases. Fashion brands went under tremendous pressure at the time, not to mention it’s an industry that adheres to strict seasonal calendars, which is why it was all the more urgent for brands to clear their inventories. So ahead of 6.18, we devoted a lot of time to fashion brands, including finding ways to support the sales of their in-season summer collections – for example, through featuring their newest, hot-off-the-shelves products to consumers – and helping them get rid of out-of-season stock. In just three minutes into the campaign, the apparel category reached RMB1 billion in sales. That was significant growth. We also dedicated the entire day on June 6 to spotlighting clothing brands, helping promote their new products and deal with unsold stock. Also notable is the rise of the “stay-at-home” economy. Naturally, everyday necessities and lifestyle goods sold well during the outbreak. These products have the power to improve our quality of life and are representative of the consumption-upgrade trend in China. We’ve seen this concept really take off during this year’s 6.18 and expect to deepen our reach into this market.
Livestreaming has become an important tool if not a critical lifeline for businesses during the pandemic. What’s your take on livestreaming technology and its potential for merchants?
Taobao Live is a new channel for marketing and sales, and the medium will become even more dynamic in the future. We’ve become a market-leader in livestreaming with a unique proposition. To enrich our livestreaming ecosystem, we introduced a greater variety of presenters, influencers and celebrities into our 6.18 broadcasts to bring new streams of content and new experiences. We also expect growth in branded streams as more brands have opened their own official livestreaming accounts to directly connect with consumers. Finally, we want to expand our selection of products available via livestreaming.
Tmall also made 3D shopping technology widely available to merchants on the platform for the first time during 6.18. Can you tell us more about that?
I think this technology could transform, or even revolutionize, some industries. When people shop for furniture and home accessories, they really want to know how these combinations would look like in their own homes. In the past, all they could do was try to visualize with their imagination. But now consumers can use Tmall’s 3D shopping feature to get a better sense of what items would look like in different arrangements. Technological advances can play a major role in the upgrade of some sectors and categories, and even boost a category’s sales conversions significantly. New technologies have allowed us to explore even more innovative shopping experiences via 3D rendering.
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