BEIJING/LONDON: Within the next ten to twenty years there will be 500m middle class consumers in China, according to Jack Ma, and there will be huge opportunities for smaller Western brands to gain a foothold in this market.

"In the last 20 years China was focused on exporting, in the next 10-20 years China will focus on importing," the founder of ecommerce giant Alibaba told a business gathering in London. "We're coming here to help small businesses in the UK, in Europe, to sell to China."

To this end the company has made its London office a regional hub and opened offices in Italy, France and Germany.

Some 5,000 overseas brands from 25 countries are expected to take part in Singles Day, Alibaba's annual online shopping extravaganza on November 11, which this year will feature 6m products from more than 40,000 merchants and 30,000 brands.

Last year shoppers from 175 countries placed orders on Alibaba's platforms during the first 40 minutes, as the company upgraded the event into a global online shopping carnival by helping Chinese shoppers purchase overseas products and overseas buyers acquire goods from China.

The ecommerce business has announced it will this year be "merging bricks with clicks". Jeff Zhang, president/China retail marketplaces, explained this was a theme of the 2015 event and "marks the first step in achieving the full integration of the digital economy and physical commerce".

Some 180,000 stores in 330 cities across China are using a variety of omnichannel strategies to make shopping more convenient and rewarding.

So, for example, customers entering one of these stores will get text notifications from their Taobao mobile app and can then scan an event barcode to win discounted e-coupons to redeem on the 11.11 shopping day.

Leading retail brands – including Suning, Intime and Haier – will have special in-store experience zones where consumers can try out displayed products before scanning the barcodes and purchasing them at the discounted prices reserved for sales on 11 November.

Data sourced from AFP, China Daily, Alizila; additional content by Warc staff