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Alibaba sets new Singles’ Day record with $31B in sales, but growth is slowing – TechCrunch

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Alibaba scored another blockbuster Singles’ Day after customers around the world shopped in stores and online on the tenth edition of its November 11 shopping festival. That puts this year’s gross merchandise volume – a measure for the dollar value of total transactions – at a staggering $30.8 billion, although the company recorded its lowest-ever annual growth rate for the event.

The figure makes the spending bonanza more than twice the size of Cyber Monday and Black Friday combined in 2017.

This is by far the largest-ever Singles’ Day to date. Just 15 hours and 49 minutes into the spending spree, transactions leapfrogged that of 2017’s tally of $25 billion, the company announced on Twitter.

As the world anticipates when the supercharged shopping day will hit a ceiling, sales are already cooling. The final total of 2018 represents a 27 percent increase from last year. That’s the lowest Alibaba has seen in the history of Singles’ Day sales, and a drop from 36 percent in 2017 — still, it remains impressive given how large the target is each year.

The slowdown came on the heels of Alibaba’s weakest revenue growth since seven quarters ago and a cut in annual revenue forecast – though revenues were still increasing at a healthy rate of 54 percent year-over-year in its latest quarter.

New growth fuel

Consumers are expected to tighten their purse strings as an economic downturn hits China. The ecommerce giant is, however, unconcerned for it’s betting on the country’s rising middle class in the long run.

Shoppers “are looking for new ways to upgrade their lifestyles and make their lives better,” Alibaba executive chairman Joe Tsai said at a media event on Sunday. “This will really offset a lot of the short-term cyclical effects.”

More than 300 million of China’s 1.4 billion people have entered the middle-income bracket, according to the national statistics bureau. That means discretionary items will drive much of the growth in the Chinese retail titan – and the upmarket trend is already underway. Health supplements, small home appliances, and skincare items are among the fastest growing categories by GMV during Singles’ Day this year.

Alibaba has also tapped into physical stores. The online retailer is poised to “digitize the whole consumer retail market,” Daniel Zhang, current CEO and incoming chairman as Jack Ma hands over the helm next year, told media on Sunday. Over the past two years, Alibaba has been jostling with close rival JD.com to snap up strategic partnerships with brick-and-mortar retailers who remain keen to reach Chinese consumers.

Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang started the Singles’ Day shopping festival in 2009 when he was in charge of the company’s Tmall business (Photo Vivek Prakash/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

There are nuances in the sheer size of GMV, however, as it doesn’t reflect final revenues. A slew of factors could boost the figure. For one, refunds cannot be processed on November 11. Many vendors run pre-sales weeks in advance, taking deposits for items at the time but only processing full payments on Singles’ Day.

Alibaba also aired a star-studded gala on the night of November 10 to drum up sales. It said that over 240 million people – that’s almost one in five people in China – watched the show and its Singles’ Day commercials through two of China’s top TV broadcasters and Alibaba’s own Youku video streaming site.

Next ten years

As Alibaba enters its 19th year, it’s turning to new channels to sell. “Voice will be an important entry point,” said Zhang. The firm’s efforts to brace for China’s transition from a mobile-first age into an AI-powered one include a tie-up with voice assistant startup Rokid.

Alibaba also has its sights set on international consumers. This year, merchants from over 200 countries participated in Singles’ Day, including those on Alibaba’s Southeast Asia-based Lazada platform. “From day one, our dream was to create a global shopping day,” suggested Zhang.

An 11.11 advertisement in New York

Alibaba celebrated another big milestone this year: over one billion packages were shipped throughout the shopping day. But the company is also under mounting pressure to address its packaging waste problem.

“We have to redefine packaging,” said Zhang. That means more than using recycled material. More important, the CEO wants items to travel at a closer distance. This is made possible by algorithms that optimize inventory management. Alibaba could also lean on Ele.me, which it acquired this year and runs a fleet of food delivery staff, to process neighborhood orders which may require less or no packaging at all.

Singles’ Day was first popularized as an antidote to Valentines’ Day for the way the date is written numerically: 11.11, which represents four single people. Nearly a decade after Zhang first turned it into a sales promotion for Tmall, Alibaba’s online sales platform for brands, the one-day event has swollen into the world’s largest online shopping festival.

“We created this day for people who are lonely. Today, we totally redefined the day for how people shop,” concluded Zhang.

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Google TV Android app is mysteriously blocking Netflix

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As with its messaging services and, more recently, music streaming, Google’s video entertainment strategy isn’t exactly the most consistent. It has flip-flopped on that as well, and its latest attempt is just as confusing. Google TV, which refers to an app as well as an unrelated Android TV skin, tries to consolidate not just Google’s own videos and movies but content from other sources as well. Those sources, however, have strangely lost one important member as users report Netflix’s practical disappearance from the app.

Google TV, the Android app, not the Chromecast UI, is meant to be a hub for all things video on your phone. It is pretty much a search engine for VODs and allows you to link to streaming services so that you won’t have to search each one separately. It’s convenience, however, relies on the number of data sources it can search through.

Unfortunately, Netflix might no longer be one of those sources. Users first started reporting that Netflix shows wouldn’t show up in results or that they couldn’t be added to their watchlist. Now, 9to5Google also revealed that Netflix was no longer in the list of services you could sign into in the Google TV app. When asked to comment, Google’s response is almost telling:

“With Google TV, our goal is to bring the best of our search and discovery features across your subscriptions to your favorite devices. We work with each content partner to enable these entertainment experiences, and the level of integration will vary by partner.”

It’s pretty much a roundabout way of saying that there has been some miscommunication or disagreement between Google and a content partner, in this case, Netflix. Whether it’s temporary or permanent, we can only wait and see. Either way, it’s a surprising development just a month or so after Google TV’s debut.

To be clear, Netflix is still available on the new Chromecast so it’s not like Google is completely blocking the service. This discrepancy with the Android app, however, pretty much defeats the purpose of Google TV being a gateway to video streaming and VOD services. It also doesn’t do Google any favors when it comes to ridding itself of that image of inconsistency and unreliability when it comes to its social and media platforms.

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Fujifilm GFX100 can now produce 400MP images with a firmware update

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Given the onslaught of smartphones, camera makers have had to step up to offer features that would be difficult to pull off with a mobile device. Most have started turning DSLRs and ILCs into webcams, for example, to ride on the wave of video conferencing platforms today. Fujifilm has yet another such feature that would probably be impossible with smartphones today, allowing the 102MP GFX100 mirrorless camera to generate pictures with 400MP resolutions.

It almost sounds like the opposite of pixel binning, where smartphones use adjacent pixels to produce an image that has a smaller resolution but a higher level of detail. The principle behind Fujifilm’s “Pixel Shift Multi-Shot” however, isn’t exactly new and can be found in cameras and smartphones under different names. In a nutshell, it takes multiple shots at slightly shifted positions which are then combined into a single 400MP image.

When the user presses the shutter button, the GFX100 records 16 frames in rapid succession, using the in-body image stabilization or IBIS to shift the sensor slightly at each frame. It doesn’t end in the camera, however, and requires a separate Pixel Shift Combiner software for PCs and Macs to combine those 16 frames into a single RAW file in DNG format. A different piece of software like Capture One can then turn that into a 400MP TIFF or JPEG.

The resulting image naturally contains more detail than an equivalent 100MP photo. Fujifilm claims that these 400MP images are able to reproduce more faithfully the details and colors of their subjects. Of course, that also means that file sizes are exponentially larger, too, with a single JPEG taking up hundreds of megabytes.

That might be a deal-breaker for hobbyists and even some pros but Fujifilm might not have those users in mind anyway. It is positioning this feature for digitally archiving artworks, architectures, and other cultural assets where storage is a small price to pay for being able to faithfully preserve such artifacts. Pixel Shift Multi-Shot is available in the latest firmware update to the Fujifilm GFX100 but the Pixel Shift Combiner and Capture One programs have to be downloaded separately.

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TikTok given another seven days to sell its US operations

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Almost like some of the smooth dance moves you can see on the social network, TikTok has again narrowly dodged what could be the fatal deadline that would end it, at least in the US. As the new November 27 deadline approaches, owner ByteDance was given another week to convince the US government not to ban it outright. That remains a quest of Herculean proportions as the Chinese company’s multiple proposals have been repeatedly rejected already.

TikTok was supposed to go dark in the US on November 12, the initial deadline set by US President Donald Trump for the company to come up with a proposal to sell its US operations to a US owner. Whether it was because of the elections or not, that date approached with no further word from the government, leading TikTok to wonder if they were miraculously forgotten. It wasn’t but it at least got a 15-day reprieve.

Those fifteen days will be over on Friday and yet no resolution has been reached. It seems, however, that the Trump administration is willing to draw the uncertainty out as long as it can and filed for another seven days for ByteDance to find a buyer. The problem is that it seems that the US government is still not satisfied with the terms.

For quite a few months already, TikTok’s owner has been in talks with Walmart, Oracle, and other US investors to create an entity that will handle the US side of TikTok’s operations, including the critical data of American users. ByteDance revealed it already made four other proposals before November 10 and an insider tip claims it submitted yet another one. The extension is supposedly meant to give the US Treasury Department time to review that proposal.

This, of course, leaves TikTok’s fate still hanging in the balance, especially given the current uncertainty in the US political scene. The Trump administration itself, however, is also running out of time before it hands over the reins to a new government. Previous attempts to indirectly curtail TikTok’s operations were already shot down in federal courts, leaving this divestment strategy as its last recourse.

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