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Singles Day set to segue into Black Friday as pre-Christmas discounting gets underway

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The pre-Christmas discount season is underway. By midday, UK time, shoppers from around the world had so far spent a collective $15bn (£11.9bn) on Alibaba Group's 11.11 Festival, held to mark China's fast emerging Singles Day. Some 82% of sales took place via mobile devices.

That means the event passed its 2015 total of $14.3bn (£9.3bn) with four hours still to go.

The festival, which Alibaba says will redefine the way shopping happens, had already sold goods worth $7bn (£5.5bn) GMV in the first two hours of the day-long shopping event. The image illustrating this page shows Alibaba Group founder and executive chairman Jack Ma performing a card trick during the gala event that launched it.

"Chinese consumers purchased more in the first hour of 11.11 this year than the entire 24 hours in 2013, reflecting the incredible evolution of our global shopping festival,” said Daniel Zhang, Alibaba Group chief executive officer. "This unprecedented level of engagement demonstrates both the consumption power of Chinese consumers and their embrace of online shopping as a lifestyle."

In the run up to the festival, from November 1, some 8m consumers tested Alibaba's virtual reality project. It has promoted VR as the next big thing in shopping, setting up a VR online channel called Buy+ that, says the live blog on Alizila, the Alibaba Group's news channel, "was flooded by tens of thousands of curious geeks shortly after it debuted in the lead-up to the 11.11 sale".

It said the shoppers who tried it – 76% of whom were born after 1980 – could use the technology to browse and pay for products in virtual reality stores operated by eight US, Australian and Japanese merchants including Macy’s, Costco, P&G, Chemist Warehouse and Tokyo Otaku Mode.

Black Friday deals will follow hard on the heels of Singles Day, courtesy of Amazon . The US retailer announced this morning that its UK Black Friday deals will cover 12 days of pre-Christmas offers – starting as Monday November 14 opens, and ending at midnight on Friday November 25.

Deals, it says, will be become available every five minutes and together represent millions of pounds in savings, allowing customers to get an early start on their Christmas shopping. More than a thousand Amazon Marketplace sellers are taking part in this year's The Black Friday Sale, offering twice as many discounts as they did last year.

The event is open to all shoppers but Amazon Prime members, including those who are on a free Amazon Prime 30-day trial, have 30-minute early access to all Lightning Deals. Some deals will only be available through Amazon's Prime Now app to scheme members in eligible postcodes, who can pay £6.99 to take delivery of their item within an hour.

Last year, Amazon.co.uk sold more than 7.4m items on Black Friday, which fell on November 27, at a rate of 86 items per second.

Since last year the retailer has invested in its UK infrastructure, opening two new fulfilment centres – taking its total to 12 – where more than 1,500 new jobs have been created.

Doug Gurr, UK country manager at Amazon, said: “In response to positive customer feedback for Black Friday deals, we are introducing The Black Friday Sale – 12 days of fantastic deals on must-have gifts and products, saving our customers millions of pounds.

“We’re also thrilled to have over a thousand small businesses featuring in our Black Friday Sale, broadening the selection for our customers and enabling those businesses to boost their sales in the run up to Christmas.”

Hazel Reynolds, Brighton-based founder of Gamely, creators of family-friendly party game Randomise, said: “We’re thrilled to be one of hundreds of small businesses benefiting from being part of Amazon’s Black Friday Sale and having the chance to grow our sales and exports by reaching millions of customers in the UK and across Europe. Selling on Amazon has been a fantastic way to get the word out there and convey the hilarity of playing Randomise.”

Deals available in The Black Friday Sale at Amazon.co.uk will be announced closer to the launch date, but in 2015 the most popular deals included the 7” Fire Tablet, Fire TV Stick, Fire Kids Edition Tablet, Sony Playstation 4 and Xbox One console bundles, Le Creuset cookware, Paco Rabanne fragrances and Star Wars toys.

Commenting on the news from Amazon, Geri Tuneva, head of marketing at Qubit, said: "When Amazon say they are extending their Black Friday offers across twelve days because of 'customer feedback', what they actually mean is that they’ve analysed the vast quantities of customer data they’ve collected over the last year and found that there’s still a lot more they can get out of this shopping peak."

"With many questioning the logic of the discount phenomenon that is Black Friday, and a number of retailers even opting out entirely, Amazon's move demonstrates the importance of brands resisting the wisdom of the crowds and instead focusing on what their own data shows them.

"However, just as Amazon has created its own artificial peak in Prime Day, brands should think carefully about their target shoppers' mindset and buying journeys to ensure there aren’t other times of the year when discounts and offers would appeal more."
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