Battle of 11/11, more than a shopping festival
A huge poster of 11.11 in Sanlitun, one of the busiest commercial areas in Beijing. [Photo: VCG]
Topics related to 11.11 began to appear on Weibo's top trending topics list since the first day of November. It has been nine years since the first 11.11 shopping festival in 2009, which was started by the online platform Tmall, part of Alibaba Group. The result of the first 11.11 online shopping sale was so astonishing that Alibaba made it into an annual event. In the following years, other e-commerce companies jumped on the bandwagon, making 11.11 into the grand event it is today.
After almost a decade, the sale has become the single largest online shopping event in the world that has greatly impacted the domestic market. Advertising posters for the coveted day made by various online platforms line the streets. People are talking about their wish lists in their daily conversations. Social media influencers keep posting videos with names like "10 things you must buy on 11.11". And a few days later, there will be more unboxing videos and shopping hauls.
Among the crazy atmosphere of shopping, 11.11 is also a battle field for all those involved around the logistics of the day from shipping companies to computer programmers.
Workers in delivery company in Guizhou, SW China was working hard after 11.11 in 2017. [Photo: VCG]
The aftermath of an explosion of online orders during 11.11 is a great challenge for delivery services. According to the State Postal Bureau of China, the whole postal industry will expect to deliver more than 1.8 billion packages from November 11 to November 16 this year. This means the highest daily volume can be be up to three times as high as the normal amount.
Delivery service companies begin preparation a full two months before the actual online shopping holiday arrives. It's not uncommon for the postal industry to have large turnover in workers, but just before what is known as the craziest time of the year, some people may resign from their jobs just to skip the busiest time for delivery services. Companies have to hire more people so as to live through the 11.11 battle.
Bad weather in winter can make the challenge even harder, with snow in northern China or rain in southern China being typical in the month of November. Delivery speeds can drop by as much as 40% which is high enough to provoke a lot of customer complaints. Workers cannot sort packages outside on the ground in snowy or rainy weather as well in the fear of damaging the packages, which will cause more delays.
A programmer in Alibaba was standing by in the office eight hours before the 11.11 in 2017. [Photo: VCG]
Programming and Maintenance
If the delivery service is a visible battle which most people can see, programmers working in the background are working on a less tangible battle.
Millions of orders in a second can be a disaster for the system. Programmers running background maintenance have to stay in the office in case any problems occur. Actually, the hardest time is not the eve before 11.11 but the preparation period long in advance of the day, with Alibaba implementing special AI to handle all of the split-second orders on 11.11.
The 11.11 shopping festival has created an opportunity for not only e-commerce, but also the postal industry, backstage technologists and other businesses. By surviving from the annual challenge companies can make progress. For most customers, the biggest challenge on 11.11 is to face their long shopping bill.