Alibaba Group has today revealed its plans to stimulate cross-channel retailing during this year's 11.11 Global Shopping Festival, which is set to see more than 1,000 retail brands in 330 cities across China participate in a major retail marketing push.

In Beijing alone, more than 8,000 stores will join the 11.11 (11 November) festival, which has been running since 2009 and offers shoppers a range of cut-price deals and an opportunity to benefit from a wide variety of retail services. Alibaba said today that consumers will have access to products, prices, services, delivery options and membership benefits online, as well as at the participating brands' physical stores.

Originally the brainchild of Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang six years ago, the 2015 version of the shopping festival was officially launched earlier this month. Its key aim is, clearly, to generate revenues for the group but it also exists as a way of engaging international brands with China and highlighting to them the growing potential of doing business in the country. The grocer, Sainsbury's, is one of the most recent examples of a British retailer starting to work with Alibaba to sell its products in China via the marketplace's Tmall platform.

Speaking last week, Zhang said: "Over the past six years, 11.11 has evolved from a marketing event for online shopping into a global phenomenon that involves consumers in China and around the world.

"This year’s 11.11 will focus on four key themes: omnichannel, mobile, logistics and globalisation. 11.11 showcases the scalability and power of Alibaba's entire ecosystem. Only Alibaba can deliver a comprehensive eCommerce experience at the scale seen on 11.11, the 24-hour period when the world gets a glimpse into our unmatched infrastructure."

Alibaba said that 11 November 2014 was the biggest global shopping day in history in terms of gross merchandise volume, with over US$9.3 billion reportedly settled through China's mobile and online payments platform Alipay. Shoppers were said to have placed 278 million orders in the 24-hour period.

What are this year's new digitally-led festival features?

  • Discounted coupon offerings: Through location-based services, consumers will receive text notifications for the 11.11 omnichannel celebration from their Taobao mobile app when they enter any of the 180,000 participating stores. Consumers can then scan the barcode on the "11.11 omnichannel celebration" sign displayed in stores and get a chance to win discounted e-coupons to redeem on the 11.11 shopping day.
  • Same product offerings online and offline with discounted prices: Retail brands such as Suning, Intime and Haier will set up special experience zones in their stores across China. Consumers will be able to try out any displayed products, scan the barcodes of chosen items, and purchase them with the discounted prices reserved for sales on 11 November.
  • Optimal delivery service: By synching up brands' physical stores and offline service centres with their marketplace stores on Alibaba-owned Tmall, retailers will be allowing consumers to either pick up their merchandise at nearby stores after making online purchases or choose to have their orders delivered to a physical store or retailer warehouse.
  • After-sales services: Consumers have a chance to tap into after-sales services at certain retailers where online and offline stores are connected. For example, a Tmall Service Station will be set up in more than 1,600 Suning stores across China, allowing shoppers who purchase any digital products or mobile phones from Tmall the chance to benefit from maintenance and after-sales support.
  • Same membership benefits online and offline: Members of specified brands can enjoy the same services and benefits whether they buy products online or offline. For example, members of Herboris, a Chinese hair and skin care brand, can make an appointment on Herboris' Tmall store, conduct the skincare services in selected Herboris' physical stores and receive samples and coupons reserved for members.

This year's 11.11 Global Shopping Festival is expected to bring in six million products from more than 40,000 merchants and 30,000 brands, including 5,000 overseas brands from 25 countries and regions such as the US, Europe, Japan and South Korea.

It also comes at a time when the UK government is looking to strengthen its ties with China, as the country's president Xi Jinping makes his first visit to Britain this week. It is ten years since the last official visit from China's head of state and the tour is seen a way of developing bilateral relations, including Xi addressing the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and meeting the royal family during his stay in the UK.

Coinciding with the visit will be an event run by governmental department UKTI, which will be facilitated by the head of the E-Exporting Programme, Edward Donald. The programme, which is designed to help UK retailers and brands grow their presence in foreign countries via online channels, has earmarked China as a significant area of opportunity for British retailers and the wider business world.

Thursday's event, which will take place at the Hilton London Bridge, will give delegates a chance to hear from a range of China-based online marketplaces and to understand the challenges and commerce potential of the country via presentations from UK retailers that have already started to do trade there, such as Superdry and House of Fraser.