Technology powers Singles’ Day bonanza

By Xie Jun Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/13 22:33:40

Databases, drones, AI improve accuracy and efficiency


A new smart warehouse in Huiyang, South China's Guangdong Province, launched by Cainiao, the logistics arm of Alibaba on October 17, has the largest population of mobile robots in China. It was the flagship facility for smart logistics during the Singles' Day festival. Photo: IC

This year's Singles' Day online shopping bonanza on Saturday saw record-breaking sales, backed by not only the work of e-commerce websites' employees but, more importantly, cutting-edge technology.

Just about three minutes past midnight, the gross merchandise volume (GMV) on Alibaba's hit a record of 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion). Usually, the initial minutes of Singles' Day are the peak period for transactions, but that is also when network faults are most likely to occur.

However, things went "as smooth as silk" this year, Alibaba CEO Zhang Yong said  about 10 minutes after the special sales began. 

A Shanghai-based resident surnamed Dai, who bought a TV on early on Saturday morning, told the Global Times on Monday that her transaction was very fast, "just like buying on any other day."

This year, there were no major payment errors or technical mistakes, a PR representative from Ali Cloud, Alibaba's technical arm, told the Global Times on Monday.

During the whole Saturday, GMV on exceeded 168 billion yuan, up from 120 billion yuan on November 11, 2016. Also, this year's shopping festival saw 1.4 billion payments via Alipay, Alibaba's online payment platform, up more than 40 percent year-on-year.

GMV on exceeded 127 billion yuan during Inc's (JD) own Singles' Day shopping festival on Saturday.

According to a statement Alibaba sent to the Global Times on Monday, Alibaba widely used artificial intelligence (AI) during this year's Singles' Day shopping spree.

"Because of the large-scale use of AI, Alibaba's technical commanders got to relax and drink tea," the Ali Cloud PR told the Global Times.

About 10 types of robots were used by Alibaba for different applications for this year's festival. One of them, named Luban, is an AI designer who created up to 410 million product posters for the Singles' Day, according to the Alibaba statement.

Another customer service robot named Ali Xiaomi answered more than 90 percent of the questions asked by consumers on the shopping festival day.

Alibaba also used robots to carry out around-the-clock inspections of some of the company's data centers, the Alibaba statement noted.

Liu Dingding, a Beijing-based independent industry analyst, said that JD also established some "autonomous sorting centers" where robots, instead of human beings, handled express packages.

A statement sent by JD to the Global Times on Monday noted that the company used many drones to deliver packages ordered during the event.

"The whole e-commerce sector in China has become more 'smart'. This also demonstrates China's soft power," Liu told the Global Times. 

Apart from AI, Alibaba used many other advanced technologies to support transactions on the Singles' Day. For example, it used a proprietary distributed database called OceanBase, which can process 42 million requests (one payment equals one request) in just one second. Alibaba declined to reveal the maximum requests the new database can process.

Alibaba used to handle requests with a focused database, which wasn't able to handle rocketing transactions within short periods.

Other technologies used by Alibaba include DDoS technologies, which can help resist hackers, and Changefre systems, which can track online data changes.

"In terms of research and development, Alibaba outperforms other e-commerce websites in China, as its technologies have wider and more practical applications," Liu said.

On Friday night, Alibaba also displayed some of its new technologies it used in offline retail, such as digital devices that can allow customers to preview how they will look wearing certain clothes or cosmetics.


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