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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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Facebook posts can now be exported to Google Docs, WordPress

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Depending on how you look at it, Facebook may have surpassed Google in being the poster child for harvesting personal data on the Internet. Considering how much of people’s online lives and information it has in its possession, the social media giant regularly gets pushed, mostly through laws and regulations, to take certain steps to secure and unlock users’ information. Part of that is allowing users to move their data outside of Facebook and a new export tool will let them do just that to transfer their posts to other online services.

The ability to export Facebook data has actually been around for a few years now. It’s part of the Data Transfer Project, an agreement among some of the Big Tech companies to allow users to move some of their data across different and competing services. Last year, Facebook made it possible to transfer photos to Google Photos and now it’s doing something similar for posts themselves.

According to the blog post, Facebook users can go to their account’s “Your Facebook Information” Settings to select Transfer Your Information. You can select either Photos or Notes (but not both at the same time) and have them copied over to Google Docs or WordPress. You will then be asked to log into those external accounts before the transfer begins.

Facebook promises that the tool is secure and private and that data is encrypted as it moves between services. Comments to posts are not exported, however, since they’re associated with someone else’s Facebook account.

It’s a small but important step for Facebook users to have their data unshackled from the social network’s walls, at least when they need to. Facebook is, of course, simply complying with regional laws and probably doesn’t expect most users to utilize them, anyway.

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Sony’s latest Home Cinema Projector has native 4K and a huge price tag

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Sony has announced two new projectors designed for home theaters: the VPL-VW325ES and VPL-VW1025ES. Both models feature native 4K support, according to Sony, which packed in features like its X1 projector picture processor and dynamic HDR enhancement. Both models are available now, but they come with substantial price tags.

The notable feature with both of these new Sony projectors is the inclusion of its ‘X1 for projector’ picture processor, which is based on the same tech found in the company’s BRAVIA televisions. The hardware has been, according to Sony, optimized for use in projectors to enable features like the aforementioned dynamic HDR enhancement.

Both models offer native 4096 x 2160 resolution for a true 4K home theater experience. Sony includes some of the features from the previous generation, including an input-lag reduction mode, but adds what the company says is ‘dramatically’ improved performance when it comes to display reaction speed.

These things should make the projectors a suitable option for gamers who want to play on the extra-big screen. Both models can likewise upscale FHD and 2K content to 4K resolution. There are some differences between the two models, however, including both the light source and lenses used.

The VPL-VW325ES model features a 1,500-lumen lamp as a light source, while the VPL-VW1025ES model has a brighter 2,200-lumen laser light source. Likewise, the latter model also has an All-Range Crisp Focus (ARC-F) lens that offers ‘pristine’ image quality from edge to edge, according to Sony.

Getting that benefit won’t come cheap, however, as the VPL-VW1025ES projector is priced at $39,999.99 USD. The VPL-VW325ES model, meanwhile, is more affordable at $5,499 USD. Both models can be preordered now.

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Geico security breach exposed customers’ driver’s license numbers

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A letter submitted by insurance company Geico to the California attorney general’s office details a data breach that took place earlier this year, exposing customers’ driver’s license numbers. The letter doesn’t include certain pertinent details such as how many people were potentially impacted by the security issue, though it did note the numbers may be used as part of unemployment benefits fraud.

The letter, which was first spied by TechCrunch, is dated April 9 and explains that the security incident took place from January 21 to March 1. During that time, the hacker(s) used customer data “acquired elsewhere” to get access to Geico subscribers’ driver’s license numbers using the company’s online sales system.

The company’s letter explains that it believes “this information could be used to fraudulently apply for unemployment benefits” in the customers’ names. For this reason, Geico customers who receive any unexpected mail from their state’s unemployment agency are encouraged to check it for signs of fraud taking place in their name.

Geico notes that it secured its website when it learned about the issue and that it investigated the cause of the breach. The company’s letter says that Geico has “implemented — and continues to implement — additional security enhancements to help prevent future fraud and illegal activities on our website.”

The company hasn’t yet published a security breach note on its website, but the letter is written to customers and explains that they will be offered a year’s subscription to IdentityForce for identity theft protection. The letter, it seems, includes a one-time code the customers can use to activate the free data monitoring service.

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