Netflix is testing a mobile-only subscription to make its service more affordable

Netflix is testing a cut-price mobile-only subscription as it explores new packages aimed at widening its appeal in Asia and other emerging markets. CEO Reed Hastings told Bloomberg last week that the company would test lower-priced packages and it hasn’t taken long for those experiments to come to light. The first reports are from Malaysia, […]

Netflix is testing a cut-price mobile-only subscription as it explores new packages aimed at widening its appeal in Asia and other emerging markets.

CEO Reed Hastings told Bloomberg last week that the company would test lower-priced packages and it hasn’t taken long for those experiments to come to light. The first reports are from Malaysia, where Netflix quietly rolled out a mobile-only tier priced at RM17, or around $4, each month. That’s half the price of the company’s next cheapest package — ‘Basic’ — which retails for RM33, or around $7.90, per month in Malaysia.

A Netflix spokesperson confirmed the Malaysia trial. They added that similar trials are “running in a few countries” although they declined to provide details. It remains to be seen if this new subscription tier will roll out to other parts of the world.

The mobile-only trial cuts the price of Netflix in Malaysia by around 50 percent

The move makes sense for Netflix. While it has added plenty of international users — those outside of the U.S. represent 79 million of its total base of 137 million customers — I have argued in the past that it is missing out on even more customers because its rigid pricing is too expensive in many parts of the world. Indeed, to prove that point, a number of rivals in Asia price their services more aggressively.

Rivals including fast-growing Hotstar in India, iFlix — which is backed by Sky and covers 28 countries — HOOQ and Viu are priced from $3 upwards per month. While it isn’t clear how many users they are pinching from Netflix, there’s clearly a pricing disparity which this new mobile-only offering goes some way to addressing. It also hones on millions of mobile-only users in India and other parts of Asia.

Aside from offering cheaper options, Netflix is also doubling down on local content in Asia. India is a key focus and the company this month revealed a slate of eight new Netflix Original movies and one new series from India.

The mobile-only package isn’t the first time Netflix has tinkered with its pricing strategy.

The company tested a strategy to bypass Apple’s App Store with its own web-based payment system over the summer. Rather than using in-app payments for billing, and in turn paying Apple a 30 percent share of the spoils, this approach enabled Netflix to collect all the money for itself. More money is better, of course, but the cost is that the user experience is clunkier without the App Store and that may put some prospective customers. It isn’t clear how well the test performed for Netflix.

Snap is being probed over its IPO because some investors are salty about losing money

Here’s something I didn’t expect to read today. The U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission has subpoenaed Snap for details on its IPO apparently in connection with a lawsuit from disgruntled shareholders who claim the company played down its rivalry with Instagram. Reuters first reported on the subpoenas which Snap has confirmed. Precise details […]

Here’s something I didn’t expect to read today. The U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission has subpoenaed Snap for details on its IPO apparently in connection with a lawsuit from disgruntled shareholders who claim the company played down its rivalry with Instagram.

Reuters first reported on the subpoenas which Snap has confirmed. Precise details aren’t clear at this point but Snap told Reuters that the probe is likely “related to the previously disclosed allegations asserted in the class action about our IPO disclosures.”

Snap went public last March with sharing popping over 40 percent on its debut to give it a valuation of $30 billion. It’s market cap today is a more modest $8.9 billion due to numerous factors including, most prominently, the efforts of rival Facebook to compete with Instagram, which has rolled out a series of features that mimic Snap’s core user experience.

That cloning has taken its toll on Snap’s business.

Today, Instagram’s Stories — the feature that closely resembles Snap’s app — has some 400 million users, that’s more than double the users of Snap. But it is far-fetched to claim that Snap played down that threat when it went public, which is what the class action case claims.

The writing had been on the wall for some time as Snap noted in its S-1 filing ahead of the IPO:

We face significant competition in almost every aspect of our business both domestically and internationally. This includes larger, more established companies such as Apple, Facebook (including Instagram and WhatsApp), Google (including YouTube), Twitter, Kakao, LINE, Naver (including Snow), and Tencent, which provide their users with a variety of products, services, content, and online advertising offerings, and smaller companies that offer products and services that may compete with specific Snapchat features. For example, Instagram, a subsidiary of Facebook, recently introduced a “stories” feature that largely mimics our Stories feature and may be directly competitive. We may also lose users to small companies that offer products and services that compete with specific Snapchat features because of the low cost for our users to switch to a different product or service. Moreover, in emerging international markets, where mobile devices often lack large storage capabilities, we may compete with other applications for the limited space available on a user’s mobile device. We also face competition from traditional and online media businesses for advertising budgets. We compete broadly with the social media offerings of Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter, and with other, largely regional, social media platforms that have strong positions in particular countries.

But even if an investor something didn’t read that document or reports of it (not advised) there was ample press coverage of the growth of Instagram Stories, and Facebook’s general Snap cloning efforts, since its launch in August 2016.

In particular, TechCrunch covered the rivalry and cloning closely ahead of Snap’s IPO with reports that showed Instagram was “stealing” Snap users, that it was responsible for slowing user growth and more.

In short, it was fairly clear that Instagram was cloning Snap, which in turn was a key factor for Snap’s growth struggles.

Don’t get me wrong there’s certainly a lot to worry about over at Snap — those poor user numbers, a string of executive exits and a strange u-turn on a recent hire — but this lawsuit looks to be little more than sour grapes from investors who either didn’t fully understand the space they invested in, or simply made a poor decision to back Snap at whatever price they did.

On that note: anyone who invested at Snap’s peak valuation might have lost more money than betting on Bitcoin during this year’s January hype — that’s saying something — but ultimately they have no-one to blame but themselves.

Flipkart CEO Binny Bansal resigns over allegations of ‘serious personal misconduct’

Flipkart, the India-based e-commerce firm owned by Walmart, has lost its Group CEO Binny Bansal after he resigned from the company following an investigation into “serious personal misconduct.” Bansal founded Flipkart in 2007 with Sachin Bansal (no relation) and he had served as its CEO since 2016, before going on to become CEO of the […]

Flipkart, the India-based e-commerce firm owned by Walmart, has lost its Group CEO Binny Bansal after he resigned from the company following an investigation into “serious personal misconduct.”

Bansal founded Flipkart in 2007 with Sachin Bansal (no relation) and he had served as its CEO since 2016, before going on to become CEO of the Flipkart Group — which spans its core e-commerce, fashion and payments divisions — one year later.

Walmart said in a statement that Bansal denied the allegation and that an investigation into it “did not find evidence to corroborate the complainant’s assertions.” However, the retailer did uncover “other lapses in judgement, particularly a lack of transparency, related to how Binny responded to the situation” which is why it has accepted his resignation.

Walmart, Flipkart and Bansal aren’t providing details on exactly what happened, but Walmart cautioned that “recent events risked becoming a distraction.”

This photo taken on May 9, 2018 shows Walmart CEO Doug McMillon (R) speaking next to Flipkart co-founder and CEO Binny Bansal at an event in Bangalore, as a deal was announced for Walmart to buy a stake in Flipkart (Photo by AFP/Getty Images)

Alongside Flipkart CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy and Tiger Global’s Lee Fixel, Bansal was widely seen as a key figure in securing the deal that saw Walmart agree to fork out $16 billion for a majority 77 percent stake in Flipkart. The transaction, which closed in August and is the largest in Walmart’s history, cemented Flipkart’s position in India and pitted Walmart against its arch-enemy Amazon for a new battle outside of the U.S.

While Sachin Bansal left the company following the deal, Binny Bansal was expected to stay on and, according to reports, he was viewed as a very key part of the future of the business.

Despite that, Walmart couched the exit as expected.

“Binny has been contemplating a transition for some time and we have been working together on a succession plan, which has now been accelerated,” it said.

There’s no word on Bansal’s successor at this point. Walmart said that the existing leadership will remain in place — that includes former Tiger Global executive Krishnamurthy as head of Flipkart, Ananth Narayanan as CEO of Myntra and Jabong, its fashion portals, and Sameer Nigam as CEO of its PhonePe unit.

China’s NetEase raises $600M for its music streaming business

As Tencent Music, China’s largest streaming firm, reportedly stalls on its proposed U.S. IPO, one of its closest challengers is doubling down. NetEase Cloud Music, a rival operated by games and publishing giant NetEase, just closed a fresh $600 million injection from a bevy of investors that include Baidu and General Atlantic, the company announced […]

As Tencent Music, China’s largest streaming firm, reportedly stalls on its proposed U.S. IPO, one of its closest challengers is doubling down.

NetEase Cloud Music, a rival operated by games and publishing giant NetEase, just closed a fresh $600 million injection from a bevy of investors that include Baidu and General Atlantic, the company announced this week.

NetEase will maintain a majority share in the company following this deal although it isn’t clear what the valuation is. The business is already valued at over $1 billion, that landmark was reached last year when it raised 750 million RMB, that was around $108 million at the time.

Tencent Music operates a constellation of streaming and live-streaming music apps which Tencent claims reach a cumulative audience of 800 million users. That’s quite a generous figure since China’s official stat keeper recognizes that the country has 800 million internet users, and it seems unlikely that any single business would be able to reach every single one of them. (Yes, stats can often lie.) 

Five-year-old NetEast Cloud Music, meanwhile, says it reaches 600 million users, a figure that it claims has increased by 200 million over the past year. With this new money in the bank, the company said it plans to go after more user growth and develop its platform, which includes over 10 million songs. The company has put focus on independent music, and it claims 1.2 million tracks from around 70,000 indie musicians.

Tencent, which has a tie-in with Spotify, submitted documents last month to go public via a U.S. IPO that could raise at least $1 billion. However, the Wall Street Journal reported a week later that the process had been paused amid challenging market conditions which saw stocks sink, including those of Tencent and Alibaba. The plan was to resume the process this month, according to the report, but so far there has been no update from the company.

Alibaba’s Xiami music service is widely considered to be another major music streaming contender in China, and it teamed up with NetEase Cloud Music earlier this year to share libraries in order grow their respective repositories of songs.

It makes sense that two rivals would team up to increase their rivalry with Tencent, which operates no fewer than four music services: Q Music, Kugou Music, Kuwo Music and WeSing.

Up for grabs is a streaming industry that, while nascent, is showing potential to grow among China’s 800 million internet users. Indeed, iResearch data cited by NetEase forecasts music spending in China to triple between 2017 and 2023. The music industry as a whole is poised to gross 376 billion RMB ($54 billion) in total sales this year with digital the fastest-growing source of income.

Tencent Music’s IPO opened the books on the leading contender in the space with some interesting points to note. Unlike Spotify and others, the business is profitable — $199 million on total sales of $1.7 billion last year — while subscriptions, the core source of revenue in the West, is just 30 percent of all sales. Instead, Tencent Music capitalizes on virtual gifts that are sent to live streamers and premium memberships.

However, the company’s revenue is well short of Spotify, which grossed $1.5 billion in its most recent quarter alone. Those in China are opting to see that gulf as an opportunity and that goes some way to explaining this new round for NetEase Cloud Music.

Chinese WeWork rival Ucommune raises $200M to go after international growth

China’s Ucommune, the country’s largest rival to WeWork, has been on a busy acquisition spree to build out its domestic business and now it is looking at overseas opportunities after it closed a $200 million Series D funding round. The new round was led by Hong Kong-based All-Stars Investment with participation from Chinese investment bank […]

China’s Ucommune, the country’s largest rival to WeWork, has been on a busy acquisition spree to build out its domestic business and now it is looking at overseas opportunities after it closed a $200 million Series D funding round.

The new round was led by Hong Kong-based All-Stars Investment with participation from Chinese investment bank CEC Capital and other investors. Ucommune said in a statement that the deal gives it a valuation of $3 billion, that represents a significant jump on its Series C in August which valued it at $1.8 billion. This new round takes Ucommune to around $650 million from investors to date, according to Crunchbase.

Founded in 2015, Ucommune has emerged as WeWork’s main rival in China since the U.S. firm acquired Naked Hub earlier this year in a deal said to be worth $400 million. Ucommune claims to operate more than 200 co-working spaces, most of those are in China but its overall footprint of 37 cities also includes Singapore, New York, Taipei and Hong Kong. Clients include unicorns ByteDance, Ofo and Mobike, as well as streaming service Kuaishou, according to Ucommune. WeWork China, by contrast, has around 40 locations.

Co-working has been a major buzzword in China following the growth of WeWork but as time went on a mixture of competition and China’s slowing economy saw a number of the field struggle. That presented an opportunity for Ucommune, which has aggressively gone after growth in China with a consolidation strategy that has seen it acquire no fewer than seven companies this year.

Its most recent addition was Fountown, which operates 27 spaces in Beijing and Shanghai and was acquired last month, while the others include co-working businesses — Wedo, Workingdom, Woo Space and New Space — an interior design company and a workplace collaboration startup.

Now, Ucommune is looking for ambitious international growth that’s aimed at expanding its reach to 350 cities across 40 countries. The ultimate goal, it explained in an announcement today, is to double its capacity from 100,000 workstations today to 200,000 over the next three years.

Ucommune’s space at Suntec is one of two locations it operates in Singapore

Going global is no easy thing, particularly when WeWork is on the case in many parts of the world with buckets of cash. The U.S. firm is currently making a big push in Southeast Asia — the most logical market for Ucommune to target first — with plans to launch locations in Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand in the coming months. That would take WeWork to five countries in Southeast Asia, where it got a head start thanks to its acquisition of Singapore’s SpaceMob.

Ucommune has two locations in Singapore already but next time up is Hong Kong, where it says it is on track to open an inaugural space in December with a second slated for the first quarter of next year.

But WeWork is also strong its U.S. home market, Europe, Japan — where it works with SoftBank — and Korea, where it already has more than a dozen spaces. The firm has raised more than $1 billion for its China business and around $500 million for Korea and Southeast Asia.

Beyond a rivalry in China, Ucommune and WeWork have also engaged in a legal spat. WeWork forced its rival to change its name from UrWork after it took the company to court last year over the similarity.

Tiger Global returns with a $3M investment to help restaurants deal with delivery apps

Tiger Global has returned to backing early-stage Indian startups after it wrote a $3 million check for CheckMate, a U.S.-Indian startup the helps restaurant deals with the pain of multiple food ordering platforms. The deal is a Series A and it represents the first time that CheckMate has raised outside funding for its business. It […]

Tiger Global has returned to backing early-stage Indian startups after it wrote a $3 million check for CheckMate, a U.S.-Indian startup the helps restaurant deals with the pain of multiple food ordering platforms.

The deal is a Series A and it represents the first time that CheckMate has raised outside funding for its business. It is also a return to early-stage investing in India — where CheckMate’s largest office is — for Tiger Global following a period of relative inactivity.

Founded 2.5 years ago initially as a bill-splitting app, CheckMate provides a platform that unifies food and payments to ease the chaos of working with modern consumer platforms. In this current age, restaurants simply must work with platforms like Uber Eats, Postmates, GrubHub, DoorDash and others to get orders, but the services don’t play together, or even with, existing restaurant systems.

That means that each service requires its own tablet for managing orders. On top of that, none integrate with order systems that print receipts for chefs or point-of-sale software. That means that restaurant staff must not only operate a bunch of iPads to handle the orders, but they have to manually enter them into their ordering systems (to ensure the ticket is processed so the order is cooked) then handle point of sale and bank the order for accounts.

That’s a lot of manual hassle and it’s the core issue that CheckMate aims to solve.

It effectively operates like a bridge that connects the various delivery platforms to a restaurant’s management system. It feeds orders from multiple food delivery services into the ordering system automatically, and feed the sales back into the restaurant management system. That helps keep the orders moving quickly, whilst managing account and sales without manual input.

“Online orders are still treated as a stepchild that’s alien to the business,” CheckMate founder and CEO Vishal Agarwal told TechCrunch in an interview. “With our solution, we inject online orders into the true heart and center of these businesses.”

A ‘wall’ of tablets is commonplace in restaurants as food delivery apps become an increasingly important source of orders

Headquartered in New York, where Agarwal is based, CheckMate has rolled out to over 1,000 locations in the U.S. and it counts Five Guys among its customers. The company recently expanded to Australia with its first customers and Agarwal — previously with e-commerce company Choxi.com — said he is looking for further international growth. The plan to get it, however, is by piggybacking the POS systems it supports, including Brink, Toast, and Revel, rather than establishing CheckMate’s own sales team.

That makes a lot of sense since the POS providers have a major incentive for linking their restaurant customers up with CheckMate because it streamlines their operations and makes their life easier. It also helps keep CheckMate lean and mean.

The team itself is already lean and international. While Agarwal, who comes from India, is based in New York, the rest of his 10-person U.S. team is distributed while the operations and tech team of 25 is located in CheckMate’s India-based office.

Since there are no public APIs, CheckMate has built its own platform in conjunction with food delivery services and now Agarwal — who said he has invested his own money in CheckMate — plans to double down on R&D, and in particular more integrations, by using this Series A raise for hiring.

“Technology in the restaurant sector is under-utilized — I was coming from e-commerce background where technology is everywhere,” he explained. “We quickly realized how much resistance to tech there is and we want to make it easy as possible for operators to adopt our product.”

That simplicity also applies to CheckMate’s pricing model which was recently adjusted. Previously, the company charged a setup fee but that has been abolished in favor of two tiers: $85 per restaurant for up to two platforms, and $100 for unlimited platforms per location.

“As restaurants streamline their operations to take advantage of rapidly increasing online orders, we
expect hundreds of thousands of restaurants to benefit from Checkmate’s unique solution,” Tiger Global partner Scott Shleifer said in a prepared statement.

The deal is an interesting one for Tiger Global, the 17-year-old New York investment firm that just closed a new $3.75 billion fund. The firm became well known for writing bold checks that backed ambitious startups in India a couple of years ago before it put the brakes on that strategy.

According to a multitude of media reports, the firm’s management grew concerned that it was overexposed in India, where it had deployed some $2 billion via deals in unicorns like Flipkart and Uber rival Ola. Flipkart’s exit via a majority investment from Walmart, however, made the firm around $3 billion in returns while it also retained a small stake in the business, which is tipped to have its own IPO in the future.

Tiger Global executive Lee Fixel, who spearheaded the India strategy, is said to have spent the last year working closely with Flipkart to realize the deal. Now that it is done, Tiger Global is said to be returning to investment mode in India, according to a recent Economic Times story. That means that CheckMate may be the first of many as the tiger begins roar again.

Alibaba rival JD sees Singles’ Day revenue jump 27% thanks to offline push

Alibaba may have pioneered the concept of Singles’ Day, the world’s largest shopping day based on sales, but it very much not the only e-commerce giant involved. JD.com, Alibaba’s biggest rival in China, just announced that it sold RMB 159.8 billion ($23 billion) in goods for its Singles’ Day campaign. Unlike Alibaba, which racked up $31 billion […]

Alibaba may have pioneered the concept of Singles’ Day, the world’s largest shopping day based on sales, but it very much not the only e-commerce giant involved. JD.com, Alibaba’s biggest rival in China, just announced that it sold RMB 159.8 billion ($23 billion) in goods for its Singles’ Day campaign.

Unlike Alibaba, which racked up $31 billion in GMV in the 24-hour sale on November 11, JD’s festival ran for 11 days starting on November 1. That said, a large chunk of Alibaba’s sales are queued up in the days ahead of November 11 as retailers aggressively push deals, but JD is more open about its shopping period beyond the core 24 hours.

The firm’s 2018 numbers are up 26 percent on last year when it recorded 127.1 billion RMB in GMV — then worth around $19.14 billion. That was the first year that JD went public with its 11.11 sales. JD’s annual growth is about on par with Alibaba, which saw its Singles’ Day growth drop to an all-time low of 27 percent this year. That’s perhaps to be expected given the huge amount of GMV already being generated. It is worth noting — however — that JD’s GMV is about the same as its mid-year sale in June, which grossed 159.2 billion.

Alibaba shipped over one billion packages for the first time this year, but JD isn’t saying how many it handled. It did push out 400 million items from its FMCG and food business, and some of the brands it worked with across its business included Apple, Dell, Dyson, L’Oréal, SK-II and Pampers.

“There is a noticeable shift in China toward quality over price, which we see in the growing numbers of consumers who are willing to pay more for branded and imported goods,” JD.com CMO Lei Xu said in a statement.

JD’s approach to 11.11 has parallels with Alibaba but also there are differences. Like its rival, JD has pushed its presence into physical retail with its fresh food supermarket brand 7FRESH, unmanned convenience stores and ‘Retail Experience Shops’ — Alibaba has its Hema markets and InTime mall stores — while it claims that 600,000 stores used its tech and infrastructure to host their own Singles’ Day events.

While Alibaba has grown its business using both its Tmall platform for brands and Taobao marketplace, JD has taken a more managed approach to e-commerce. Most of its efforts are focused on working with brands which is why it claims to have avoided the counterfeit goods issue that has plagued Alibaba, which remains on the U.S. government’s ‘Notorious Markets’ list.

This magician brings some serious tricks to the iPad Pro

iPad magic pro#iPad #magic #mac #apple #iphone #magician #gadget #ガジェット #マジック #手品 #art #表参道 #Tokyo #iPadpro pic.twitter.com/DdfNupZhQE — Shinya Uchida(内田伸哉) (@shinyamagician) November 7, 2018 TechCrunch editor Matthew Panzarino’s more conventional iPad Pro review is a must-read if you’re thinking of forking out for the device — tricks not included. Review: The iPad Pro and the […]

TechCrunch editor Matthew Panzarino’s more conventional iPad Pro review is a must-read if you’re thinking of forking out for the device — tricks not included.

Single’s Day: China’s $25 billion shopping festival explained

This Sunday is November 11, an auspicious date within the Chinese tech community because it marks Single’s Day, the world’s largest online shopping day. This year is particularly poignant since it will be the tenth edition of the annual event — also known as Double Eleven — since it was created by Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce […]

This Sunday is November 11, an auspicious date within the Chinese tech community because it marks Single’s Day, the world’s largest online shopping day. This year is particularly poignant since it will be the tenth edition of the annual event — also known as Double Eleven — since it was created by Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant.

Single’s Day is huge business today. Alibaba sold more than $25 billion in goods last year as 11.11 moved outside of China into other regions within Asia and beyond. The company has consistently grown its sales tally year-on-year, so it’s fair to expect $35 billion or more in trading to take place this Sunday even though there are doubts over China economy and an ongoing trade war with the U.S.

We’ve dug into the phenomenon so that, this year, you’re well prepared on what to expect.

What is it?

The event is akin to Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the U.S. but it is 2.5 times larger than both of those dates put together. Alibaba discounts a range of products across its online sales platforms which include its Taobao marketplace, Tmall store for brands, AliExpress international services and — more recently — its global businesses. Those include Lazada in Southeast Asia and India’s Paytm, which counts Alibaba and Ant Financial as major investors.

The sale covers obvious goods like smartphones, TVs and other big ticket consumer items but also fashion, clothing, furniture, health products and more. The less expected items that sell well include cleaning products, toilet paper and daily perishables. There’s also a strong demand for cars among other things.

In total, Alibaba saw 1.48 billion transactions worldwide last year with a peak of 325,000 orders per second. Its Alipay payment service clocked 1.5 billion payment transactions with total orders reaching 812 million. All the while, a dominant 90 percent of sales came from mobile devices — that’s well ahead of the U.S. which saw 37 percent during Black Friday and 33 percent on Cyber Monday.

Alibaba’s 11.11 sales passed a record $25 billion in 2017 (Image via Alibaba)

Alibaba is also pushing the festival into offline retail which is in line with its own business, which has expanded into physical stores through its own Hema brand and partnerships with major retailers in China, such as tech giant Suning and hypermarket operator Sun Art.

It was renamed to “11.11 Global Shopping Festival” in 2015 to reflect Alibaba’s efforts to grown the sales outside of its core market in China, and last year it claimed to have attracted over 60,000 international brands with customers located across more than 225 countries.

In the beginning

November 11 wasn’t always synonymous with buying discounted products online. The date first came to prominence in China during the 1990s when it was said to have been promoted as a bachelor celebration day because the date represents four ‘singles.’ It later took on new meaning as a day to celebrate relationships — it is a hugely popular date for marriages — and find potential partners.

The e-commerce component arrived in 2009 when an executive named Daniel Zhang used the date to promote Tmall, Alibaba’s virtual mall for brands, with just 27 merchants participating. Zhang, then in charge of the Tmall business, is now the CEO of Alibaba itself and he will become the firm’s Chairman when Jack Ma — Alibaba’s figurehead for many years — finally steps down from the business next year.

Back in 2009, Alibaba grossed around $7 million on its inaugural Single’s Day. Speaking to CNN this week, Zhang said he “had never expected” that the promotion would become such a huge phenomenon for both Alibaba and the wider e-commerce industry.

Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang started the Single’s Day shopping festival in 2009 when he was in charge of the company’s Tmall business (Image via Vivek Prakash/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Beyond Alibaba

As Singles’ Day blossomed into a national celebration, other e-commerce players such as JD.com and Pinduoduo have also joined in to capitalize on a month of robust consumer spending. JD.com, for instance, saw a 21.1 percent uptick in active users for its mobile app on November 11 last year, according to market research firm QuestMobile.

The event’s warm reception has also inspired competing festivals throughout the year. In 2010, JD.com, which ranked behind Alibaba in terms of transaction volume, runs its Single’s Day festival over a 12-day period and it started its own mid-year shopping event that falls on June 18. Suning, a major Chinese appliance retailer, has turned its August 18 anniversary into a sales event.

None of the latecomers have managed to match the scale of Singles’ Day, however, and Alibaba continues to extend the boundary for the world’s largest shopping event.

An 11.11 advertisement in New York (Image via Alibaba)

Not just numbers

Singles’ Day continues to grow bigger each year, but sales have slowed. Year-over-year growth in gross merchandise volume slid from just under 65 percent in 2014 to around 40 percent in 2017.

But Jack Ma has always been keen to downplay the importance of these numbers. In 2013, he told Chinese media on the eve of November 11 that he wasn’t going after sales figures. He has reiterated a similar message in the succeeding years.

Rather than scale, Ma said he looks for “steady” growth. That’s because the shopping spree demands an overarching infrastructure to power functions such as logistics and payments.

Ma’s words are in line with the company’s ongoing quest for potential partners to power its retail ecosystem. Last year, Alibaba poured $717 million into Huitongda, which runs an infrastructure for online retailers to sell to rural customers — who also participate in Singles Day.

Similarly, Alibaba’s financial affiliate Ant Financial has banked a number of payment solutions companies worldwide to support the e-commerce company’s global reach, while the firm’s cloud computing division handles the demands of selling $25 billion in goods each year. Then there’s logistics platform Cainiao Network which helps handle the 812 million orders that were placed in China last year.

Single’s Day has also seen Alibaba adopt tech technology on a wide scale. Last year, it ventured into AR — Maybelline let customers try its lipstick virtually — Nike is among the brands to have used gamification to attract customers and Alibaba’s own Tmall service adopted ‘virtual fitting rooms’ to help sell clothes.

Offline sales

Alibaba Chairman Ma has also projected what would become a norm for Singles’ Day today. “We want all e-commerce companies to get involved, and all brick and mortar malls to be part of it,” he said.

In 2016, Ma coined the term “new retail” to describe a future of seamless integration between online and offline retail sales. Last year marked the dawn of the shopping festival’s offline push. This year, 200,00 brick-and-mortar stores have signed up for Singles Day to make discounts available to Alibaba customers. A user can, for instance, gets offline deals when she uses Alibaba’s Alipay e-wallet to pay at a mall. Alibaba also uses Alipay to give away cash prizes through red wallet competitions.

Alibaba said last year that New Retail “showed promise” during 11.11, but it declined to provide figures. This year, given Alibaba’s physical retail advancement — it now operates over 30 stores and includes facial recognition-based payment — the offline component will be more important than ever. Beyond Hema and InTime physical shopping, that also includes Ele.me — and Starbucks deliveries — and the rest of its local services delivery platform.

Alibaba’s 11.11 deals will now include Starbucks coffee, which can be ordered exclusively via its Ele.me delivery service thanks to a partnership with the U.S. coffee chain (Image via Alibaba)

Expectations for 2018

The forecast for this year’s Single’s Day 2018 is challenging since it comes against the backdrop of China’s economic struggles and the U.S-Sino trade war which has seen billions in goods tariffed. However, the majority of Alibaba’s sales continue to be in China, both on 11.11 and the rest of the year, so despite its progress on international growth the actions of the U.S. government are unlikely to be felt.

Nonetheless, some key factors:

  • Slowing growth: Alibaba’s quarterly revenue continues to grow healthily (40 percent plus) but the rate itself is slowing, the same applies to 11.11
  • Offline: Alibaba is making a concerted offline retail push to offset e-commerce saturation with more deals for those who shop in person
  • Services: Its on-demand services and delivery platform — reportedly valued at $30 billion — will play a more prominent role in China by offering 11.11 deals
  • Payments: Alipay is expanding 11.11 deals by offering discounts for shoppers paying through the app online or offline
  • More global: Alibaba’s international footprint continues to grow and it is pushing 11.11 harder in Southeast Asia, where it has established links with China-based sellers, while it now has dedicated ventures in Russia and Pakistan/South Asia to work with

Either way, Alibaba puts on a real spectacle for the world during 11.11.

First up there’s a star-studded entertainment show that takes place on the eve of the festival and then you can expect constant updates from Alibaba’s Twitter account during the 24-hour period itself. We’ll also be following the latest developments for you right here on Techcrunch.com so stay tuned for more.

This year’s 11.11 event is Alibaba’s tenth and the final one before Jack Ma’s retirement from the company (Image via VCG/Getty Images)

Xiaomi is opening a retail store in London as it extends its Europe push

Xiaomi’s expansion into Europe continues at speed after the Chinese smartphone maker announced plans to open its first retail store in London. The company is best known for developing quality Android phones at affordable prices and already it has launched devices in Spain, Italy and France. Now, that foray has touched the UK where Xiaomi […]

Xiaomi’s expansion into Europe continues at speed after the Chinese smartphone maker announced plans to open its first retail store in London.

The company is best known for developing quality Android phones at affordable prices and already it has launched devices in Spain, Italy and France. Now, that foray has touched the UK where Xiaomi launched its Mi 8 Pro device at an event yesterday and revealed that it will open a store at the Westfield mall in London on November 18.

That outlet will become Xiaomi’s first authorized Mi Store. Styled on Apple’s iconic stores, the Mi store will showcase a range of products, not all of which are available in the UK.

Still, Xiaomi has shown a taste of what it plans to offer in the UK by introducing a number of products alongside the Mi 8 Pro this week. Those include its budget tier Redmi 6A phone and, in its accessories range, the Xiaomi Band 3 fitness device and the £399 Mi Electric Scooter. The company said there are more to come.

That product selection will be available via Xiaomi’s own Mi.com store and a range of other outlets, including Amazon, Carphone Warehouse and Three, which will have exclusive distribution of Xiaomi’s smartphones among UK telecom operators.

Xiaomi hasn’t branched out into the U.S. — it does sell a number of accessories — but the European launches mark a new phase of its international expansion to take it beyond Asia. While Xiaomi does claim to be present in “more than 70 countries and regions around the world,” it has recorded most of its success in China, India and pockets of Asia.

CEO Lei Jun has, however, spoken publicly of his goal to sell Xiaomi phones in the U.S by “early 2019” at the latest.

Still, even with its focus somewhat limited, Xiaomi claims it has shipped a record 100 million devices in 2018 to date. The firm also posted a $2.1 billion profit in its first quarter as a public company following its Hong Kong IPO. However, the IPO underwhelmed with Xiaomi going public at $50 billion, half of its reported target, while its shares have been valued at below their IPO price since the middle of September.