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Brands bank on technology to drive sales, win consumers

By He Wei in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-08 07:39

Technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data and augmented reality are integral for forecasting consumer demand, as sales for the upcoming Singles Day are expected to reach new heights.

Coined by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd in 2009, the Nov 11 shopping gala-the world's largest single-day discount event-will see transaction volume top 152 billion yuan ($22.9 billion) this year, up 26 percent from a year ago, according to estimates from consultancy Oliver Wyman.

Brands are adopting technologies like AI and advanced analytics to help predict consumer behavior in e-commerce and beyond, turning it into a truly "smart affair", said Edouard de Mezerac, partner of Oliver Wyman.

For instance, Cainiao Network Technology Co Ltd, a smart logistics system in which Alibaba holds a majority stake, leveraged AI to predict sought-after items, combining elements like historical sales data, price fluctuations and even climate changes across regions.

"For people in South China's Guangzhou and Shenzhen, on top of their shopping carts is laundry detergent. But people in Hangzhou prefer to snap up tissues," said Wang Zheng, supply chain operating director of Cainiao.

Cainiao will then transport select products to warehouses adjacent to prospective buyers, in an attempt to relieve delivery congestion.

Besides, machine learning algorithms are also being applied to data to help automate warehouse operations and speed up parcel delivery, with a computer model in place to determine the fastest and most-cost effective routes in a variety of complex road networks, he added.

Technology is also playing a significantly bigger role this year to grasp the eyeballs of consumers, with brands unveiling features such as AR-powered lipstick color testing and interactive games to win special perks like discount coupons, said Wang Xiaofeng, a senior analyst with research firm Forrester.

"The conversion of both online and offline…is a collaboration around data, the data being the consumer," said Stephane Rinderknech, CEO of L'Oreal China, whose Maybelline brand will offer immersive online to offline experiences for shoppers during the event.

At a curtain-raiser last week, a consortium of world-leading brands from Adidas to Polo Ralph Lauren showed off their latest lines in a livebroadcast fashion show, offering viewers the chance to buy the things they see on the runway in real time by shaking mobile phones.

"One can even try on the outfit by clicking the 'virtual fitting room' button on the app before you actually make the purchase," said Huang Zhongsheng, co-founder and CEO of Haomaiyi, which provides such technology for Alibaba's Tmall site.

Brands are also utilizing project management software for cross-platform marketing and communications purposes, which "significantly streamline processes and improve their operation efficiency", said Qi Junyuan, founder and CEO of Teambition, maker of one such application.

All these efforts are providing enhancements for customer experience, such as product search results that have become uncannily precise and relevant, as well as customer-service chatbots that can resolve consumer complaints without human intervention, said Lu Zhenwang, CEO of Wanqing Consultancy in Shanghai.

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