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Joe Keenan is the executive editor of Total Retail.

Someday soon, buying items online may require you to smile before paying, no matter how high the price. At least, this is where Alibaba Group Holdings Inc.'s new technology seeks to lead us. Earlier this week, Alibaba Founder and Chairman Jack Ma unveiled the company's "Smile to Pay" system, which will allow users to confirm their identity by face-recognition technology rather than with passwords or other digital tokens. Ma showed off the new system in a presentation at the opening of the CeBit technology conference in Hanover, Germany.

The internet has flattened competition for retailers, big and small, and that means you have to build a personal connection with each shopper rather than compete for their wallets based on price. As competition in e-commerce continues to grow, global marketing campaigns have to become more tactical and focused. Here's how retailers can do that:

Gap has struck a deal with Zalando, Europe's largest dedicated online fashion retailer, to sell its core brand starting next May in the hopes of reaching more consumers, particularly in markets where it has no physical stores. Gap already delivers to 24 European countries from its own website and has more than 200 stores on the continent, but is not present on the ground in key markets such as Germany. Berlin-based Zalando started out selling shoes in 2008 and now ships 1,500 brands to customers in 15 European countries.

In just a few short hours, China will begin celebrating its largest shopping day of the year: Singles Day. Adopted five years ago as an anti-Valentine's Day marketing stunt by Alibaba, the quirky holiday has taken on a life of it's own. Last year, Singles Day brought in a record 35 billion yuan ($5.8 billion U.S.) for Alibaba alone, and a reported 50 billion yuan total. In comparison, Singles Day sold more than twice the gross merchandise volume of all U.S. sales during last year's Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales combined. And now that Alibaba has reported a successful first quarter after going public, analysts are predicting sales for this years Singles Day will be even bigger.

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