Workers at an online merchant prepare products for the Nov 11 shopping spree in Fuyang, Anhui province. WANG BIAO/FOR CHINA DAILY
Retail market analysts predicted that November's big shopping frenzy－the China-inspired Singles' Day－will see a year-on-year sales increase of 40 percent, as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and major international brands use virtual and augmented reality to woo online shoppers.
Similar to the UK and U.S. shopping day Black Friday, Chinese online retailers will offer a slew of promotions on Nov 11, and could generate up to $20 billion sales this year, a 40 percent increase on last year's gross merchandise volume of $14.3 billion, according to Fung Global Retail & Technology. The 2015 figure represented a year-on-year increase of 54 percent.
This year, more British online retailers are joining in with specific offers targeted at China.
In terms of online sales volumes, Singles' Day dwarfs Black Friday, the shopping holiday that unofficially marks the start of Christmas shopping in the United Kingdom and United States, falling on Nov 25 this year. Last year, Britons spent $1.35 billion and Americans spent $5.8 billion online over Black Friday and its web-based equivalent Cyber Monday.
Fung Global said its 2016 forecast was driven by a tailwind from Chinese online shoppers' demand for overseas goods and by expectations for Alibaba's extensive marketing campaign, which this year exploits virtual and augmented reality features.
Alibaba will pilot Buy+, a VR headset which will allow shoppers to walk around simulations of bricks-and-mortar stores in locations around the globe, simply nodding to confirm purchase of items. Macy's Inc's flagship store in New York is among participating retailers.
British supermarket chain Sainsbury Plc has used a virtual reality promotion tool on Alibaba's online store Tmall in August. Sainsbury's reached top spot on Tmall in terms of orders during a one-and-a-half hour 360-degree live broadcast of its supermarkets in London. The event was the second most popular promotion since Sainsbury's live broadcasted an afternoon tea party on the Queen's birthday.
Alibaba has also released a location-based augmented reality Pokemon Go-style mobile app ahead of Singles' Day. The company hopes to drive traffic from online stores to the physical stores of Tmall merchants as users follow an animated mascot on their phones through real city streets. International brands taking part include KFC and Starbucks.
A number of British brands will offer discounts specific to Singles' Day this year. Coffee specialists Whittard of Chelsea, Liverpool Football Club and pet food provider Bob Martin will all be offering Singles' Day discounts for the first time, according to a Tmall representative.
British brands returning with exclusive Singles' Day promotions include Jellycat, Cambridge Satchel, Myprotein and iconic fashion brand Burberry.
Other major international brands joining for the first time include Target, Maserati, Apple, and Guerlain, while Zara, Bose, Samsung, Estee Lauder, L'Oreal P&G, and Unilever are all set to come back.
Returning clothing and sportswear brands Uniqlo, Nike, Adidas, and New Balance were among the most popular brands in 2015. International brands are made available through country-specific portals on the Tmall website.
Several of Alibaba's competitors are making moves ahead of Singles' Day.
Kaola, the e-commerce and cross-border platform of internet service provider NetEase Inc, is partnering with Australian brands UGG and Bellamy's Organic.