All hands on deck for 1,000 Zalora employees to ensure 11.11 shopping extravaganza runs smoothly

Melanie Chalil
The world’s largest shopping event began as a day to celebrate single people in China. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

SHAH ALAM, Nov 8 — On a regular day at the Zalora warehouse, some 300 staff members can be found receiving, labelling, sorting, packing and shipping out items at the e-retailer’s 50,000-square foot premises here in Section 23.

On the most important date on the e-commerce calendar however, that figure multiplies to 1,000 employees made up of full-time and part-time staff.

Zalora employees work around the clock in three shifts up to a week until all orders including backlogs have been dispatched.

Malaysia is Zalora’s regional eFulfillment hub that ships out items to Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Brunei, the Philippines and Indonesia.

The e-commerce site has come a long way since its first 11.11 mega-sale outing in 2015 that only had 60 workers.

The following year, that double-digit figure leaped to 500.

Today, the operation is so massive that Zalora has to close down other departments.

Zalora operations director Vykintas Mineikis says as the sale gets bigger each year, so do the challenges. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

While it sounds like a daunting affair, it’s the one day that all employees look forward to.

“It’s all hands on deck to fulfill the orders as fast as we can.

“Customers go crazy on a shopping spree on our site for amazing deals,” summed up operations director Vykintas Mineikis, who hails from Lithuania.

Malay Mail was given a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of the fashion giant’s operations leading up to the sale.

The 11.11 shopping holiday, also known as Singles’ Day, originated in China to celebrate singlehood among its younger citizens.

It was popularised by Chinese conglomerate Alibaba Group in 2009 and has evolved to become the largest shopping both offline and online in the world, regardless of marital status.

Mineikis explained that the 11.11 sale gets bigger each year and as such, more challenging.

Malaysia is Zalora’s regional eFulfillment hub, delivering packages to Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Brunei, Philippines and Indonesia. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

“We need to have a lot more manpower to be able to fulfill these orders, but it’s about logistics as well in delivering these parcels,” he said.

For fulfillment centre senior manager Mohd Ardian Alwi, it’s a mixed feeling of excitement and nerves.

Getting the manpower to pull off the mammoth task is their biggest challenge.

“Last year, we processed 90,000 items and the sale started a day prior on November 10,” Ardian said.

The popularity of the sale also reflects the trend of abandoning brick and mortar stores in favour of online shopping.

“South-east Asia is a maturing market and will probably reach the growth of China and US in five years,” Ardian predicted.

Given 2018’s success, Zalora plans to replicate the same strategy for this year’s sale.

Last year, Zalora processed 90,000 items during its 11.11 sale. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

Planning for a sale of this magnitude begins six months prior and the operations team believes in the importance of setting high targets each year as part of their growth.

“The team is always excited. It’s a new challenge each year and that’s how we improve our processes,” said outbound operations executive Nek Fadlee Ismadi.

With orders pouring in constantly, the team conducts hourly reviews to iron out any glitches, requiring them to think on their feet.

“We have a very short reaction time, so we don’t have half a day to decide what to do,” said logistics senior manager Andrea Masciandaro.

“If that window is missed, it can be costly from a delivery time perspective.”

In-house riders like Mukminin Taslam are the first point of contact for Zalora customers and on delivery day for 11.11, nothing gives him more joy than seeing shoppers eagerly waiting outside their homes for their packages.

“Customers tend to buy more during the sale, maybe instead of one, they will get four or five things,” he said.

Rider Mukminin Taslam says shoppers often wait outside their homes for their 11.11 packages. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

Mukminin sends out between 40 to 60 parcels on a regular day but on 11.11, he has double the amount to deliver and makes two rounds.

In tropical Malaysia, these riders battle the elements to ensure express deliveries arrive on time.

“Our challenge is afternoon thunderstorms — express parcels must be delivered on the same day, so I have to wait at a bus stop until the rain subsides,” he said.

If a parcel is addressed to an office and riders arrive after office hours, they will immediately reroute to the customer’s home.

“I once travelled 10km extra to redeliver a parcel. Rain or shine, we have no choice if the parcel is for express delivery,” he said.

Despite the hurdles, it’s a field day at the warehouse with Zumba instructors gearing employees up for the day ahead along with plenty of sustenance such as energy drinks, cold coffee and snacks to set the mood right.

And when everyone is done for the day, the fun continues with a little celebratory feast.

“It’s a nice time of the year, there is a lot of work, but it’s rewarding.

“Once all the parcels have been delivered, we share a meal together to celebrate,” Masciandaro said.

The Zalora 11.11 sale launches today.

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