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Alibaba reveals secret to its Singles Day mega-sale success

online shoppers

Proprietary, leading-edge technology powered Alibaba through its record-breaking Singles Day performance.

Alibaba Cloud, the data intelligence backbone of Alibaba Group, is releasing details about the core technology which supported the Chinese e-tail giant through its 24-hour online sales extravaganza held Nov. 11, 2019. Alibaba is estimated to have generated $38.4 billion US in gross merchandise volume (GMV), a 26% increase from the previous Singles Day sales record set in 2018.

Underlying the entire Singles Day event was the third generation of Alibaba Cloud’s proprietary X-Dragon architecture, specifically designed to support artificial intelligence (AI) operations. X-Dragon servers seamlessly integrate computing platforms in a single architecture, and helped improve cost efficiency by 20%. 

In addition, the X-Dragon architecture handled record-breaking sales volume with zero downtime. Alibaba Cloud’s Apsara operating system processed around 970 petabytes (1 petabyte = 1 million gigabytes) of data to support peak performance of 544,000 orders per second. PolarDB, a database developed by Alibaba Cloud, supported sales activity with a peak of 87 million requests processed per second.

Through self-developed green technologies, including liquid immersion and deep-water cooling, Alibaba Cloud can reduce power consumption for every 10,000 e-commerce transactions can be reduced to 2 kilowatt hours (kWh). Overall data center energy consumption dropped 70% from 2018, saving over 200,000 kWh during the 24-hour period.

On the customer-facing side, Alibaba upgraded thousands of retailers on its Tmall e-commerce platform to Tmall Flagship Store 2.0 storefronts before Singles Day. Version 2.0 offers a user interface with a 3D avatar for customers to try on clothes and jewelry. The conversion rate per purchase grew by over 20% from 2018, serving 1,167 key brands' flagship stores in 2019.

Alime Shop Assistant, a customer-service chatbot supported by Alibaba DAMO Academy’s (Academy for Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook) machine learning technologies, handled 97% of online customer inquiries on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms Taobao and Tmall during Singles day. The virtual assistant also provided hundreds of thousands of retailers on Alibaba’s platforms with intelligent customer services, such as answering questions during live broadcasts, extracting answers from pictures, and responding conversationally. 

Alibaba DAMO Academy also provides enhanced machine translation technology for Alibaba’s cross-border e-commerce platform, AliExpress. The technology can automatically translate online store and product pages into 21 languages, including Russian, Spanish, Turkish, French and Arabic, for buyers across Europe, Asia, America and the Middle East. During the shopping festival, the machine translation service was used 1.66 billion times, with over 200 billion words translated in different languages.

During this year’s global shopping festival, transactions during the Taobao Live streaming event generated nearly $2.8 billion US in sales. More than half of the live streaming Tmall retailers selling products such as cosmetics, clothing, food, cars and electronics experienced what Alibaba calls “robust” growth, with home décor products seeing 400% sales growth.

This year, Taobao developed a new, real-time communications framework for audio and video on Alibaba Cloud. Network latency was reduced to 1.5 seconds from five to seven seconds, improving real-time interaction between broadcasters and users. Video AI identified products mentioned by broadcasters during live streaming, and audiences could view product links simultaneously displayed onscreen.

Furthermore, over 1 million orders were placed and processed through voice command via Tmall Genie, Alibaba’s AI-enabled smart speaker.

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