Singles' Day, held every year on 11 November, is the world's biggest online shopping event that exceeds the combined sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US.
According to Alibaba, the volume of goods sold on its platforms raced past a billion dollars in two minutes and hit $10bn in just over an hour.
Shortly after the halfway mark – its tills will shut at midnight local time – it surpassed last year's dollar total of $17.7bn, and soon after that it surpassed the 120.7bn yuan sales total.
Nicole Kidman and Alibaba chairman Jack Ma (centre) kicked off Singles' Day on Friday night in Shanghai (Source: Getty)
Delivery men are braced for an estimated 1.5bn parcels expected over the next six days as hundreds of millions of shoppers hunt for bargains. The annual event is also seen by retail analysts as a bellwether for the overall Chinese economy.
“This is a big event for China, for the Chinese economy,” Joseph Tsai, Alibaba’s co-founder and vice chairman, said ahead of Singles' Day. “On Singles’ Day, shopping is a sport, it’s entertainment.”
Data and user experience company PCA Predict has urged British retailers to seize on the opportunity of Singles' Day.
“The scale of the opportunity offered to British retailers by Singles’ Day can’t be ignored anymore, especially as 27 per cent of purchases made on this day within China last year were from international brands,” said Chris Boaz, head of marketing at PCA Predict.
“While it is traditionally a Chinese retail ‘day,’ rather than a global phenomenon like Black Friday, I think that in the coming years, we’re likely to see this change as more and more retailers offer huge discounts to their customers outside of China to drive sales before the Christmas period.”
Why is it called Singles' Day?
The online shopping splurge began as an anti-Valentine's celebration for single people at Nanjing University in China in the 1990s. The date, 11 November, is written 11.11, consisting of four 'ones' (in China it's known as the "single sticks' holiday" because of how it looks numerically).
It was first celebrated by young men, making it more of a 'Bachelors' Day', but became more mainstream in 2011 (as this date had six 'ones') and has since been adopted by Alibaba and other retailers as a buying bonanza.
Widespread adoption in the West could prove to be tricky as the date coincides with Armistice Day, which marks the end of the First World War.