Alibaba Group will be hosting its 10th annual 11:11 Global Shopping Festival on Sunday in China, with the company expected to double the sales it generated in 2017.
The company is touting the shopping event as being the largest-ever in terms of "scale and reach".
Alibaba Group raked in $25.3 billion -- 168.2 billion yuan -- in gross merchandise volume (GMV) last year, breaking 2016 sales by 39 percent. The first 11.11 it hosted in 2009 brought in $7.8 million in GMV.
"This year marks the 10th anniversary of 11.11. On the back of China's explosive digital transformation, the Festival's astounding growth over the past decade has powered the steady growth of quality consumption sought by Chinese shoppers," Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang said.
"The evolution also showcases the development of the Alibaba ecosystem over time expanding well beyond ecommerce."
'New Retail' making the offline digital
The first Singles Day event boasted only 27 merchants; this year's will see 180,000 brands and 200,000 offline smart stores participating in the shopping event from Alibaba's ecosystem in China and around the world.
The company is tight-lipped on what exactly to expect, but has revealed its "New Retail and interactive initiatives", which sees bricks and mortar stores equipped with digital capabilities to allow them to participate. This includes augmented and virtual reality smartphone "games".
"Over the last two years, we have pioneered the concept of New Retail to accelerate the digital transformation of the offline," Zhang added. "We are excited by the impressive results achieved to date and will continue to be the driving force innovating for merchants and customers in the coming decades."
Alibaba is also making the festival more accessible to small businesses, with 200,000 "mom-and-pop stores" powered by Alibaba's Ling Shou Tong to provide online sales promotions, along with augmented reality-based initiatives that essentially gives customers discounts at 3,000 "Tmall Corner Stores".
Rural Taobao will also bring coupons to its services in 800 counties across 29 provinces in China, Alibaba explained.
Additionally, Hema supermarket will designate 11.11 signature stores featuring a number of promotions. At Hema's robotic restaurant in Shanghai, robot servers will also deliver dishes directly to consumer's table. A robot controlled refrigerator will also keep seafood cold.
Starbucks has also jumped on board this year, with the partnership leveraging Ele.me's on-demand platform to pilot delivery services in Beijing and Shanghai. Starbucks and Hema have also created Starbucks Delivery Kitchens specifically for order fulfilment.
In preparation of Singles Day, RT-Mart has just completed the makeover of its nearly 400 stores, which sees them equipped with New Retail capabilities.
Brands across the apparel, consumer goods, beauty products, handset, and home decor industries have upgraded their physical stores to the Smart Store format and use artificial intelligence to offer up personalised items to shoppers; an a "magic mirror" feature will allow consumers to try on makeup using facial recognition and augmented reality.
The company has this year allowed customers to shop early, making 500,000 items available for pre-order on Tmall, in addition to coupons on Mobile Taobao and Mobile Tmall.
Singles Day now global
Singles Day was rebranded by Alibaba to the 11:11 Global Shopping Festival, reflecting the reach the shopping bonanza now has.
Tmall World, AliExpress, and Lazada will also allow overseas punters to participate. Lazada will host its first 11.11 Shopping Festival across six countries in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
So-far, there is over 400 New Zealand and 1,300 Australian brands on Tmall and Tmall Global, around 80 percent of which entered China for the first time via Alibaba's platforms. The third top-selling vendor in 2017 was Australian-based Chemist Warehouse.
11:11 without Jack Ma
Although the 10th Singles Day event for Alibaba, it's the first without co-founder Jack Ma at the helm, after he announced he was handing the reigns to Zhang in September.
In 2009, Ma chose November 11 to host a marketing event for his newly stood-up ecommerce site Tmall. He chose the little-known local holiday Singles Day to target a segment of consumers that would potentially have more of a disposable income.
"If people are still single, we can offer them a good choice and they can enjoy the online shopping, then they will not feel alone," Ma said at the time. "So that's our thinking of November 11th."
Two years later, the festival was so popular that it pushed Alibaba's infrastructure to the brink where traffic, orders, and payments were concerned, forcing the company to strengthen its cloud systems.
Alibaba has also heavily invested in Cainiao Smart Logistics, a central platform to link a network of logistics partners to handle the millions of packages it needed to deliver as a result of 11:11.
As China became so mobile-penetrated, Alibaba also pumped resources in new smartphone-based online shopping experiences, which Alibaba said made brands in the region aware of how consumer-focused their selling experience needed to be.
"In China, 11:11 became like the Olympics, or the Super Bowl," the company wrote. "A must-do for marketers."
"I never think this is the day for selling products; this is the day we exchange ideas," Ma said previously. "This is the day we exchange innovation, invention, and creation."
Ma said he wanted to blur the lines between shopping and entertainment.
The first global order on Alibaba's platform was placed by a New Zealander during 11.11, and last year, Australia's Chemist Warehouse saw sales in excess of RMB100 million, just under AU$20 million.