SHANGHAI (AFP) - Chinese shoppers unleashed a record deluge of cash online for Singles Day on Friday (Nov 11), Alibaba said, spending almost US$18 billion (S$25 billion) with the e-commerce giant in the world's biggest online shopping promotion.
Singles' Day - named for the repeated digit 1 in the date Nov 11 - was created by Alibaba in 2009.
Now in just 24 hours it surpasses the main US online spending spree, the five days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday.
Gross merchandise volume, Alibaba's key measure of online sales, was 120.7 billion yuan (S$25 billion) this year - more than the GDP of Jamaica and well up from 91.2 billion yuan in 2015.
Consumers spent more than US$1 billion in the first five minutes of the sales, the firm said.
Rival e-commerce giant JD.com, which focuses more on electronics, said its sales total - which it did not specify - surpassed last year's figure at 1.33pm.
Some shoppers stayed up until midnight to purchase discounted goods the moment Singles Day got under way.
Among them was Shanghai white-collar worker Chen Yang, 29, who tried to buy things she had her eyes on earlier and spent about 1,000 yuan on purchases from shoes to shampoo.
"I'm so happy after I finished my shopping, though I still need to pay my credit card later," she said. "But I'm just so looking forward to getting my packages now."
In the US, total online sales for the five days from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday last year stood at US$11.1 billion, according to Adobe Digital Index.
Alibaba's New York-listed stock has been buoyant this year in spite of worries over slowing growth in China, as consumer spending has expanded while the old industrial economy struggles due to overcapacity and sluggish demand.
China's economy expanded at its slowest rate in a quarter of a century last year and has eased further this year, as Beijing tries to shift growth drivers from investment and exports to domestic consumption.
Alibaba kicked off this year's event with a gala in the southern city of Shenzhen on Thursday night, inviting international and domestic stars from basketball player Kobe Bryant to pop rock band OneRepublic.
Singer Katy Perry was also originally scheduled to perform but cancelled at the last minute due to a family emergency, she said on China's Twitter-like Weibo.
Analysts said the event, which has gained more and more traction in the past few years, is key to Alibaba.
The day's turnover was only "a very small fraction of its total annual sales", independent e-commerce analyst Li Chengdong said, but was "a confidence index for the firm".
"If they do well in this, it is a boost to investors' confidence,: he told AFP.
But sales growth may not match last year's 60 per cent rise, he warned, in the face of economic worries and stricter regulation.
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.
Alibaba itself has sought to downplay the importance of the turnover statistic.
"I don't have any requirement for the sales figure," Alibaba quoted chairman Jack Ma as saying in a statement on Weibo, adding the day was all about "happiness and joy".
Online shopping is a bright spot in Beijing's efforts to transform the economy, growing 26.1 per cent in the January to September period according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
That outstripped both overall retail growth of 10.4 per cent in the period, and official GDP expansion of 6.7 per cent 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 per cent from last year, the official news agency Xinhua reported.