This year’s Singles Day from Alibaba-owned Tmall featured a game that increased the platform’s stickiness ahead of its biggest annual shopping day, indicating a powerful tool for the Chinese e-commerce giant to fight the rising costs of new user acquisition.

In an exclusive article for WARC, AKQA China’s Head of Planning, Eva Qin, explores the impact of this year’s game, ‘Gai Lou,’ “盖楼, the building of a virtual store in the shape of a tower,” for which users can win Hong Baos, or red envelopes containing money that they can then share. The game indicates the growing importance of the retailtainment trend.

“Although Alibaba again broke its own records in 2019, delivering RMB268.4 billion (roughly US$38 billion) worth of transactions in one single day, the growth rate has slowed to 26%. So has China's GDP growth, which is now a single digit, and internet traffic growth, with 61% of China's population already connected,” Qin writes.

Hong Baos are both a social currency and a treat small enough to continue being passed around in a stagnating economy, she explains.

“Participants become ‘Tmall store partners’ and are asked to join a group to build a virtual store together by stacking. With a minimum of two and a maximum of five members, the group battles with another team to level up their virtual stores (and scores). Every battle won gains a Hong Bao as a reward. With each game lost following that, the accumulated Hong Bao goes to the opposing team.

“Needless to say, the competition was extremely fierce.”

There are key lessons to draw from the game’s success, Qin contends. In a three week period running up to Single’s Day (otherwise known as 11.11), messaging encouraged people to link up with remote friends. On the social platform Sina Weibo, the Gai Lou topic overtook that of the cash-incentives.

It was popular, but it was also sticky: “Notably, this was the first year with a ‘win or lose’ rule compared to previous years when the game mechanism was solely based on collecting Hong Baos without the risk of loss. But this year, there is a danger of losing all your winnings if you did not continuously compete.” Some users, as a result, felt tricked.

“According to Alibaba official data, the game reached 400 million users, covering 60% of young consumers in tier 3-6 cities. There was a strong correlation between gaming traffic and sales. For example, Armani was a brand featured in one of the virtual stores and ended up being one of the high-performing 299 brands to sell goods worth more than RMB100 million RMB (roughly US$14.2 million) on Singles’ Day.”

However, if the game is to continue to be effective into the next year, some of those expectations will have to be managed, given that some people ended up playing the game for 16 days straight and were disappointed with their eventual earnings. Any brands looking to gamify could take a lot from Alibaba’s lessons.

Sourced from WARC