Firms use new tech to attract customers, enhance efficiency

This year's 18-day 618 Midyear Shopping Festival became a new battlefield for major e-commerce platforms, which had beefed up efforts to harness artificial intelligence-powered technologies to enhance logistics efficiency, as well as utilize livestreaming events for product promotions.

JD Logistics, an arm of Chinese e-commerce giant JD, has upgraded its lower-tier markets program to provide 24-hour delivery services in more than 1,000 counties and tens of thousands of townships across the country.

It will expand or newly construct 13 warehouses and transfer centers in 2020, which will be located in second to fifth-tier cities like Datong, Shanxi province; Fuyang, Anhui province; Jieyang, Guangdong province; and Hengyang, Hunan province. JD's logistics services now already cover over 550,000 administrative villages.

JD said the proportion of orders from fourth to sixth-tier cities from these warehouse facilities can reach 90 percent of the total.

Furthermore, the company plans to operate 12 "Asia No 1" highly automated logistics parks, which traditionally mainly focused on first and second-tier cities, in more lower-tier cities this year. Leveraging its technology experience in lower-tier markets is an important development direction for the future, the company said.

Smart technologies-from automated sorting to unmanned warehousing and robots-are employed in the highly automated warehouses. The centers are expected to enhance logistics capacity and help handle the surging number of parcels in the country.

JD is also leveraging its supply chain to help local specialties be marketed to more cities, and is providing tailored solutions in 22 key industrial regions, which produce specialties like Yantai cherries, Lingnan lychees, Qianjiang crawfish, Lanxi bayberries, hairy crabs and Pinggu peaches.

In Korla, the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, by building a local transfer center, JD is able to provide 24-hour deliveries, and to help transport local pears to other cities in China.

It also announced on June 16 the deployment of a fully integrated Beidou smart and flexible production logistics park in Tianjin's Wuqing district, which is the first of its kind in Asia.

Wang Zhenhui, CEO of JD Logistics, said: "Leveraging our experience in smart technology innovations and applications in various scenarios, JD Logistics has built an integrated supply chain technology platform covering underlying technology, software and hardware systems, as well as smart supply chains, which can be opened to other partners as basic building blocks."

On the basis of the internet of things and AI, JD's warehouses deeply integrate cutting-edge technologies-such as deep learning, big data, operations research, machine vision system recognition and digital twin modeling-enabling it to be able to deal with millions of stock keeping units covering hundreds of categories including electronics, apparel, baby and maternal goods, cosmetics and foodstuffs.

JD is willing to open the core technology to more merchants, extending its value to the rest of the industry.

Cainiao Network Technology, Alibaba's logistics arm, has introduced a suite of high-tech services to facilitate parcel delivery and pickup during the 618 Midyear Shopping Festival.

For instance, users can send or receive parcels using facial recognition to identify themselves. They can also get the parcels delivered by driverless cars at designated times and venues, according to the company.

For Alibaba, livestreaming is definitely a core pillar for this year's sales gala. During the festival, over 1.4 million online broadcast sessions had been held via Taobao Live, its livestreaming arm, since presales started on May 25, the company said.

At Shanghai's Yuyuan Garden, an ancient architectural compound that has been turned into a business district selling local specialties, a total of nine time-honored brands from jewelry maker Yayi Gold to restaurant player Song He Lou have embraced livestreaming, inviting internet celebrities and self-employed online hosts to introduce product properties and provide discounts that are exclusive to livestreaming rooms.

During the festival, Si Yu, an online host groomed by Yuyuan, facilitated the sales of jewelry worth 2.6 million yuan ($370,000) in a three-hour livestreaming show, attracting over 100,000 viewers.

"There are two winning recipes: cheaper prices exclusive to livestreaming sessions, and professional storytelling that walks viewers through the history of the brand," she said.

"Visitors to our offline booths are our seed audience for livestreaming services," said Jia Xiaowei, a co-general manager overseeing customer-to-manufacturing and product marketing of Yuyuan.

"Taobao would in turn recommend consumers with similar profiles online to help boost sales," Jia said.

In addition, Chinese internet search giant Baidu Inc is also banking on the e-commerce and livestreaming sector during the mid-year sales promotion event. Consumers could choose express services from almost all courier companies such as JD Logistics, SF Express, ZTO Express, YTO Express, STO Express, Yunda Express and Best Express via Baidu.

Baidu has poured cash into Youzan, another e-commerce service provider, as part of efforts to further promote the development of its mini-program ecosystem.