The platform reached the 100-billion-yuan sales mark in 6 minutes and 58 seconds last year. (Photo provided to China Plus)
Three minutes and one second! That's how long it took Alibaba to pass the 10-billion-yuan mark in sales on its flagship Tmall e-commerce platform at this year's Double 11 shopping bonanza, beating last year's record by 3 minutes 57 seconds.
At Alibaba's data center in Shanghai, hundreds of reporters from all over the world are keeping an eye on the real-time sales figures, snapping the numbers with their smartphones, in scenes reminiscent of a major stock exchange.
A cheer went up when the numbers surpassed 10 billion in sales, as the Chinese e-commerce giant recorded another remarkable year.
Man vs. Machine
The huge influx of orders presents massive challenges for delivery firms that handle millions of parcels for eager consumers.
During last year's event, 467 million parcels were dispatched, representing 1.5 percent of the annual total.
To handle this massive volume of deliveries, new technologies have been deployed to speed up efficiency. Electronic order sheets, automated sorting machines and logistics robots have all helped lighten the load and reduce labor costs.
Sorting machines can process as many as 18,000 parcels in a single hour while robots save around 70 percent of manual work. This "AI and Logistics" model is now sweeping across the country's express delivery industry.
Official statistics show the Double 11 is expected to create 1.5 billion parcels between November 11 and 16.
Big data battlefield
The Double 11 has become a battlefield not only for merchants and shoppers but also for engineers.
Millions of people simultaneously rushing to apps to grab the best bargains puts a major strain on servers. In previous years people have failed to confirm their payments in the first few minutes as they try to be the first to land the best offers promised by vendors.
In 2013, Alibaba carried out a major program called " full link stress test," which stimulated real online users to check whether the system could handle the pressure at midnight.
However, engineers failed to get the results they wanted in the first three years.
This year, however, they came up with "Project Vanguard," an unmanned stress test. Many procedures were carried out by an AI system, which decides what the user volume would be, what the scale of pressure is and what countermeasures should be put in place.
Even with all this technological wizardry, some users still experienced difficulties locking down their purchases in the first two minutes this year.
Cross-border vendors and bonded zones give Chinese shoppers a chance to purchase goods from all over the world in just a few clicks.
Fueled by the development of e-commerce, internationalization of logistics and more importantly, Chinese consumers' growing purchasing power, the event is now going global, encouraging major brands like Macy's – which first got on board in 2015 – to set up online stores on local platforms.
Major players like Tmall, JD.com and Suning have all launched global platforms aimed at providing quality overseas products. The platforms also help popular and influential domestic brands gain a greater share in overseas markets.