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The run-up to Christmas sales has been rather subdued this year. The Singles’ Day ambitious target were not achieved either.

For the first time since 11.11 began, Alibaba Group has stayed silent on the 2022 full sales results, only revealing that it had performed in line with last year’s GMV (Gross merchandise value is widely used in the ecommerce as an indicator of revenues, which includes both sales and cancelled orders). If accurate, that performance was still impressive (particularly with macro-economic challenges and Covid-related impacts), but it’s far from the growth of past festivals.

In China the event has expanded from a one-day event into a festival nearly three weeks’ long starting from pre-sale to November 11. That’s a long time to sustain interest. By comparison, in Southeast Asia, Lazada’s “Double 11” event only lasts one to three days (depending on the country, Lazada trades across six countries). Lazada’s more concentrated sales period generates greater ‘FOMO’ pressure for shoppers. The company revealed that 11 minutes into the platform’s “biggest one-day sale” on November 11, sales were 124 times bigger than on normal days, but did not reveal any detailed figures.

So, what’s changing and why is consumer interest around these shopping festivals on the wane? Here are some marketing lessons to pick up from the flatline response to the mega shopping festivals this year. 

Challenges and consumer shift

There is a constant challenge to come up with fresh tactics to spur growth amidst weakening consumer confidence.

This has led to an ever-more crowded retail calendar in Asia with the likes of JD.com’s 618 festival in China held on June 18, and the 9.9 and 10.10 festivals mounted in September and October. The result is real online shopping ‘festival fatigue’ while rising consumer expectations continue to present challenges in today’s commerce landscape.

Consumers in APAC are digitally connected but heavily distracted from the clutter of information, which often results in decision inertia and consumer scepticism. So, consumers try to cut through the noise and connect with what matters to them.

In Southeast Asia, additional challenges for online commerce include the slow adoption of digital payments, where several countries continue to allow cash on delivery (a practice long gone in China).

Fulfilment is another issue, while buyers often receive deliveries in one to three days in China, logistics in Southeast Asia are much more of a problem.

Taking a differentiated approach

Brands and retailers should rethink their strategies to better align their short-term promotional activity and long-term growth.

Instead of participating in all online shopping festivals, it’s time for brands to be more selective in the choice of festivals, and how they interact with consumers, such as offering discounts for certain targeted segments only.

Taking a differentiated approach also means that brands and retailers must understand their customers intimately through tracking and measurement. For instance, how do they measure customer loyalty and high quality growth? How do they establish the ROI on customer loyalty?

Increasing brand ‘stickiness’ through CX

Beyond price discounts, it’s important to look at ways to enhance the shopping or brand experience in order to gain loyalty. Some online retailers are also focusing on innovative content marketing strategies to build their online brand community to increase ‘stickiness’.

Bain & Company revealed that Alibaba’s investment in customer experience and diversified content and marketing tools helped to deepen customer loyalty through a more seamless omnichannel experience. As of June 30, 2022, Alibaba had 25 million members of its 88VIP loyalty program, who on average spend more than RMB 57,000 each year (nearly US$8k). Similarly, the average Alibaba customer shops more widely with the retailer over time, broadening their purchases from 7 categories to 19 over five years.

The future of commerce

‘Shoppertainment’ is the future of commerce—combining shopping and entertainment, through elements like livestreaming, events, games and interactivity. It is projected that shoppertainment could unlock a US$1 trillion ($1.4 trillion) opportunity by 2025 for brands in the Asia-Pacific, increasing from US$500 billion today and growing at a 63% CAGR in the most lucrative high-growth markets—Australia, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. 

This year, social commerce livestreams were the biggest draw in 11.11 with over 300 million watching livestreaming sessions hosted on Taobao Live (Alibaba’s livestreaming platform) since the start of the presale period. Over the entire sales period, 62 influencer and merchant-run livestreaming channels surpassed 100 million yuan (US$14.1 million) in GMV, and 632 channels surpassed 10 million (US$1.4 million) in GMV.

Time to embrace ‘creative commerce’

Shopping festivals still have a major place in the retail calendar, and are not going away anytime soon. But the time has come to be more selective, and more sophisticated in how to motivate shoppers. CX, loyalty and shoppertainment are all tactics that should be explored in an effort to truly engage and deliver on experience for shoppers. Ultimately, it’s about looking beyond transaction to interaction; using creativity to inspire conversion in the moment, regardless of channel. A creative commerce approach is one that not only ‘builds baskets’, but also ‘builds brands’, and what comes next is business-driving growth.


Alex Tan is the commerce director at VMLY&R.  

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