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Alibaba eyes another record Singles’ Day

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E-commerce giant ropes in US pop star as part of annual online sales event

SHANGHAI Alibaba Group will kick off its annual 24-hour shopping extravaganza today with deals and deep discounts galore, and a performance by American popstar Taylor Swift to top it all, as it pushes to rake in another record in Singles' Day sales.

This year's bash comes as the US$486 billion (S$661 billion) Chinese retail juggernaut navigates through a major turning point, the resignation in September of its flamboyant co-founder Jack Ma as chairman.

It is also looking to raise up to US$15 billion via a share sale in Hong Kong as early as this month.

Akin to Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US, Singles' Day, a shopping fest originally promoted by Alibaba chairman and CEO Daniel Zhang in 2009, has since grown rapidly to become the world's biggest online sales event.

Alibaba saw sales worth US$30 billion on its platforms on Singles' Day last year, dwarfing US$7.9 billion US online sales for Cyber Monday. Yet, the 27 per cent sales growth was the lowest in the event's 10-year history, spurring a search for fresh ideas.

"This year will be the 11th 11.11 festival, with more than 200,000 brands participating, one million new products on offer and over 500 million users expected to participate - about 100 million more than last year," Alibaba said in a statement.

It has partnered with Kuaishou and Douyin, two popular Chinese video apps, to help it broadcast product promotions, and in the run-up to the show even roped in US celebrity entrepreneur Kim Kardashian, who launched a Tmall stream to promote her KKW line of beauty products.

Its heavy marketing campaign underscores intensifying competition with smaller rivals such as Pinduoduo, which have outsmarted Alibaba in second- and third-tier cities with deep discounts and group-buying deals.

Alibaba has been trying to expand its customer base beyond its core first- and second-tier city shoppers to less developed areas to combat slowing retail sales growth, describing it as a key strategy for the firm this year.

Pinduoduo will be holding its own Singles' Day events on the same day.

The e-commerce upstart has signalled its intentions to break Alibaba and rival's stronghold on wealthy Chinese shoppers, saying that half of the app's users now hail from first- and second-tier cities. - REUTERS