Named for the repeated digit 1 in the date November 11, China's Singles' Day this year shifted more goods than Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States combined, easily exceeding the $11.1 billion (10.2 billion euros) US consumers had spent in the five days after Thanksgiving in 2015.
In the afternoon, sales on Alibaba platforms, including Tmall and Taobao, exceeded the company's previous all-time high of $14 billion reached last year, and were tipped to be heading towards $20 billion for the whole day.
Alibaba's chief executive (CEO) Daniel Zhang noted that the e-commerce giant's Singles' Day gross merchandise volume was 35 billion yuan ($5.15 billion) back in 2013. "Now we can achieve it in one hour," he added in a live microblog posting.
Alibaba's domestic rival, JD.com - which focuses more on consumer electronics - also reported more orders than during Singles Day 2014 by about 9 pm.
Sales on that day also offer an insight into China's swing to online shopping, especially via smartphones. Alibaba said 84 percent of sales in the first two hours were via mobile devices, up from last year.
Rapid rise in e-commerce
Online shopping is a bright spot in Beijing's efforts to transform the economy, growing 26.1 percent in the January to September period according to the National Bureau of Statistics. That outstripped both overall retail growth of 10.4 percent in the period, and official GDP expansion of 6.7 percent in each of the first three quarters.
China's State Post Bureau has estimated the country will handle more than one billion packages during the six days from Friday, up 35 percent from last year, the official news agency Xinhua reported.
Analysts said the event was a benchmark for Alibaba's performance. Independent e-commerce analyst Li Chengdong said Singles' Day had come to be a "confidence index for the firm" even though sales would make up only a small fraction of its total annual sales. "If they do well in this, it is a boost to investors' confidence," he told the news agency AFP.
But sales growth this year may not match the 60-percent rise recorded in 2015 in the face of economic worries and stricter regulation. Cut-throat competition for customers on Singles' Day has caused concern over false advertising and manipulated figures.
China's commerce watchdog SAIC summoned Alibaba and 14 other e-commerce companies earlier this week, banning them from making up fake orders and lifting prices before giving out discounts. And in May, the US Securities and Exchange Commission said it was looking into how Alibaba reports its Single's Day figures.
Alibaba itself has sought to downplay the importance of the turnover statistic, with company chairman Jack Ma saying he didn't impose "any requirements" on sales figures. The day was primarily meant to be all about "happiness and joy," he added in a post on China's Twitter-like microblogging website Weibo.
uhe/jd (Reuters, AFP, AP)