What’s an ecommerce platform without the tech engine that powers it? Without the powerful backend, they could very well be just an instrument that entices but never delivers.
And when millions are filling their carts and checking out all at the same time, the technology has to be no less than the one powering a high speed jet, something like the one that powered the recently concluded Singles’ Day sale at Alibaba that notched the group a record-breaking $38 billion GMV sales.
At a high-adrenaline live event at Hangzhou, Alibaba’s headquarters in China, that showcased the capabilities of the giant group’s 24-hour global online shopping festival on November 11, known variously as Singles’ Day, Double 11, and 11.11, Alibaba Group CTO and President of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence Jeff Zhang said,
“Alibaba Group is like a high speed jet that is capable of upgrading its engine during the course of flight. We are the first company in the world to run all core business systems on our own public cloud platform.”
The performance, reliability, and agility of the core ecommerce platform increased drastically after moving 100 percent on its public cloud. “We want to share Alibaba Group’s experience with our customers so that we can enable them to take their businesses to the next level,” he added.
The core technologies used during the record-breaking global shopping festival, where over 500 million users were believed to have shopped in 24 hours and where $1B of GMV was notched up in just 68 seconds, have to be of mammoth strength to withstand such a huge stress.
According to the company, “The data intelligence backbone of Alibaba Group applied multiple mature innovations to power the cloud infrastructure and other key AI-enabled features, enabling millions of businesses to reach hundreds of millions of consumers worldwide.”
Alibaba Cloud successfully sustained $38.4 billion GMV during the 24-hour shopping spree with a peak order rate of 544,000/sec, which is 1,360 times that of the inaugural 11.11 shopping festival in 2009.
The group’s full adoption of the cloud infrastructure and technologies, including running 100 percent of the 11.11 core ecommerce system on Alibaba Cloud, is a testament of Alibaba Cloud’s maturity to handle any mission-critical, global-scale business.
Tapping this strong foundation, Alibaba Cloud handled extreme scalability, processing $1 billion of GMV in the first 68 seconds of the event. The volume hit $10 billion of GMV in under 30 minutes with zero downtime.
Some of the key technologies that were responsible for the success of this largest global shopping event include:
X-Dragon on cloud
Launched during the Apsara Conference in September, the third generation of X-Dragon architecture fully supported the shopping event. The elastic bare metal servers improved cost efficiency by 20 percent. X-Dragon servers seamlessly integrate computing platforms, including the Elastic Compute Service (ECS) bare metal server and virtual machines, in a single architecture.
Advanced data processing and analytic capabilities
Apsara Operating System processed around 970PB of data to support the 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. The new generation cloud-native POLARDB database combines performance with compatibility and availability of traditional enterprise databases in a cost-effective manner.
Through self-developed green technologies, including liquid immersion and deep-water cooling, power consumption for every 10,000 ecommerce transactions can be reduced to 2kWh. Overall data centre energy consumption dropped 70 percent from last year, saving over 200,000 kWh in 2019 Singles’ Day.
AI-enabled features to empower sellers
Thousands of Tmall (the group’s business-to-consumer platform) merchants were upgraded to Tmall flagship store 2.0 storefronts before 11.11. Version 2.0 offers a unique user interface with a 3D Taobao avatar for customers to try on clothes and jewellery, further engaging customers via rich, interactive content and an omnichannel experience. The conversion rate per purchase was increased by over 20 percent from last year, serving 1,167 key brands’ flagship stores this year, according to the company.
Alime Shop Assistant, a customer-service chatbot supported by Alibaba DAMO Academy’s machine learning technologies, handled 97 percent of online customer inquiries on Alibaba’s ecommerce platforms Taobao and Tmall during the sale.
The virtual assistant answered questions during live broadcasts, extracting answers from pictures and responding conversationally. The Alime chatbot service offers 11 languages to support communications between global buyers and sellers.
Alibaba DAMO Academy provides enhanced machine translation technology for the cross-border ecommerce platform AliExpress. The technology can help small and medium-sized merchants globally to automatically translate their 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.
Live streaming and voice shopping
During 2019 global shopping festival, transactions during Taobao Live generated nearly $ 2.8 billion in sales. More than half of the live streaming Tmall merchants selling products such as cosmetics, clothing, food, cars, and electronics experienced robust growth, with home décor products seeing 400 percent 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 experience between broadcasters and users.
Video AI identified products mentioned by broadcasters during live streaming, and audiences could view product links simultaneously displayed on screen.
During 11.11, over one million orders were placed and processed through voice command via Tmall Genie, Alibaba AI Labs’ smart speaker. Purchased items during the day included 810,000 eggs, 1.4 million tons of rice, and 76 tons of liquid detergent, a sign that voice shopping has become an increasingly popular trend.