The UX strategy behind a $25.3 Billion sale in one day!


Saturday, 11 November 2017 was a unique day for user experience and e-commerce. Alibaba clocked in a day’s sale of $25.3 billion. Compare it to the US Black Friday which was only $3 Billion and to India big billion sales in 2017 Diwali was a combined all e-commerce platform of $1.5 Bn.

Singles day, as it is called in China because of the date 11.11, has been made a prominent digital festival by Alibaba. The GMV of $25.3 Bn was 39% increase from the last year, is an amazing figure to achieve for a one day event, an event that meagerly started with a few hundred retailers in 2009, saw a listing of 15 million products from approximately 14000 brands.

It was a strong UX strategy for Alibaba that enabled the singles day sale. I have broken down the UX strategy that enabled this: –

An experience beyond sale

Jack Ma in a letter to his shareholder explained the concept of new retail – go tech, go global and go glam. A strategy of shopping as entertainment was introduced across all Alibaba platforms. He further went on to explain that the boundary between offline retail and online retail is vanishing and an experience to bridge the two is required. Alibaba was able to use Web, mobile, TV, AR, Online to Offline (O2O), see and buy, virtual changing rooms and possibly every other experience tech known to us to execute the UX strategy. It was just not technology, brands built value, an experience around consuming their product. Live fashion shows were screened by brands like Estee Lauder and users could tap and buy the clothes worn by the model. There was a complete Gala event on the night of the 10th, the eve of the single’s day sale – a lineup that could make the biggest entertainment events look small – Maria Sharapova, Pharrell Williams, a line up of Chinese actors and singers. Viewers could view the event on Youku, television and every now and then could shake their phones to get deals or “red envelopes” which are cash envelopes for the users.

Omnipresence experience

Alibaba looked at omnipresence experience in all the screens that the users interact with – television, web, mobile, retail kiosks. Events and sales were simulcast across all screens. Products that stars or models wore, could be bought on Alibaba cloud or Tmall and Taobao mobile apps. Brands like Maybelline allowed users to try lipstick virtually and then with a discount coupon buy at the store. Virtual fitting rooms were common technology across brands on all mobile and web technology inside Alibaba apps. The experience started 3 weeks before the event, with a complete message of “wishing you a happy 11.11”.

Gamification – shopping as entertainment 

A gala event to kick off, distribution of red envelopes and deals while the event was on was a great way to transition users from television to mobile apps. Users could shake their phones and get a deal. More discounts on more interactions with the apps were provided. These were all strategies of gamification. One of the biggest gamification strategy was “Catch the cat” augmented reality game that encouraged users to catch virtual cats that could be found in retail stores and outside malls, in lieu of which they could earn red envelopes. A leaderboard was maintained and updated live. Users standing inside stores or in malls trying to catch virtual cats became a common site in the run-up to the singles day mega sale.

Brands and the experience beyond buying the product

The whole experience was built around providing value to the customers. The best quality products were chosen for singles day. Analytics was used to see what particular products were sold most often and retail stores were stocked with those items. Data drove user experience across all stores and apps. Brands were encouraged to build unique, engaging experiences like what Oreo did with its music box. Every time that a user took a bite of Oreo which was on the top of the music box placed as the ‘record’, the tune changed. 20000 limited editions got sold in first few hours of the sale. Till now fashion shows had been something the users could see but not attain, with the see now buy now app, users were interacting with live fashion shows. Experience tech was able to build a value for the users beyond just buying it.

One of the biggest reasons that Alibaba was able to pull it off was that the organization concentrated on getting the experience right for the tier 2 and tier 3 town and village users. The UX strategy across functions – online to offline, retail, web, mobile, delivery was to provide shopping as an experience to the users. So what do you think of UX strategy and the future of User experience with virtual reality? 

Shashank Shwet is the founder of Fortune Cookie UX design firm ( that works with various customers across the globe with offices in India, Singapore, Mexico and Dubai. He is also the Founder of ImaginXP, ( a curriculum and certification organization in UX Design and Design thinking.

Written by Shashank Shwet / November 12, 2017