Shoppers Shake their Device for Immersive Alibaba Commerce Experience

I watched Alibaba Singles’ Day Eve Shopping Spree variety show for the first time. It’s a mix of skits, singing performances, and celebrities competing in games. Alibaba added Western icons such as NBA star Kobe Bryant to shoot hoops and American band One Republic to perform this year. Katy Perry was on the list, but she bailed the show at the last minute due to undisclosed family matters, according to Bloomberg.

Show Content

This year’s show took place in a stadium in Shenzhen. It was broadcasted on TV and live-streamed on the Youku Tudou platform, which is owned by Alibaba. The purpose of the show is to get consumers excited about snapping up deals on the tech giant’s e-commerce platform Tmall. The show began at 8 pm, and it counted down to midnight when brands began to accept online orders for this 24-hour shopping marathon, known as Double 11 domestically. The shopping festival debuted in 2009.

Jack Ma and Scarlet Johanson

Alibaba’s Founder and Executive Chairman Jack Ma appeared in the last 15 minutes of the show as a magician. American movie star Scarlett Johansson turned up with Ma. With the language barrier, Johansson only spoke “Hello everyone” in English and Mandarin in the introduction, then began to follow Ma’s lead on performing card tricks with the audience. The show ended with fireworks to officially welcome the world’s largest online shopping day regarding transaction volume, dwarfing Americans’ Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Scarlet Johanson

Interactive Experience

Besides watching the performances, what I wanted to test out is the phenomenon of digital red packets and augmented reality. During the show, the host encouraged the audience to open up Alibaba’s Tmall app and shake the phone. The idea is a random prize such as coupons will be awarded to the lucky ones. If one didn’t win any prize, the app would proceed to encourage the user to browse the stores on its platform and to add items to their shopping carts.

The on-screen instruction encourages users to shake the phone for surprises while watching the concert.

Tmall app’s on-screen instruction encourages users to shake the phone for surprises while watching the concert.

At the same time, I can comment on the show in a chatroom simultaneously, which is a favorite feature among all live-stream platforms in China. China is also big on audience comments flying all over the screen. It could be uncomfortable for Western eyes consuming content with a busy display, but one Chinese user explained it’s comforting for some Chinese audiences who are watching the show alone. It provided a sense of camaraderie.

It’s an interactive user experience with multiple screens at once. I watched the show on one screen, and  I shook my phone, which is the other screen, to enter a lucky draw. At one point, I can vote for a team from the app when the celebrities are split into two teams to compete. The show displayed a graph showing which team received more popular audience votes.

I voted for the team on right.

I voted for the team on right.

The show kept the audience engaged. Around 11 pm, one female celebrity modeled and showed off a stylish trench coat, and the host once again asked the audience to fire up the Tmall app to win this trenchcoat. I followed the instructions by tapping my phone to give virtual “likes” or “thumbs-up.” Eventually, my smartphone’s camera turned on and that trenchcoat “appeared” like an augmented graphic on my smartphone screen. Since I’m not a gamer, this experience is new to me, and perhaps to many average online consumers, too. However, after all those fun, I didn’t win the trenchcoat.

A trench coat wore by a celebrity is up for grabs.

A trench coat worn by a celebrity is up for grabs.

Then the trench coat appeared as a graphic on my smartphone.

Then the trench coat appeared as a graphic on my smartphone.

The trench coat then disappeared because I didn't win it.

The trench coat then disappeared because I didn’t win it.

Other AR features in the Tmall app included unlocking Tmall’s mascot when a user is roaming the streets. Brands participated by offering discounts and coupons when a user is near the store for the enticement.

After a night of shaking and tapping my phone, I won 50 yuan (US$7.3) worth of coupons to shop, left with a low-battery phone, and a sore arm.

Chasing Tmall's cat mascot to unlock deals

Chasing Tmall’s cat mascot to unlock deals

I won 50 yuan worth of coupons after a night of shaking my phone.

I won 50 yuan worth of coupons after a night of shaking my phone.

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