Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, said its Singles Day sales surged past last year's total just after midday Saturday, hitting a record $18 billion, pointing to a likely giant haul for the
world's biggest shopping event.
Once a celebration for China's lonely hearts, Singles Day has become an annual 24-hour extravaganza that exceeds the combined sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States, and acts as a barometer for China's consumers.
After a star-studded event in Shanghai late Friday to ring in the event, which is held each year on November 11, the volume of goods sold on Alibaba's platforms raced past a billion dollars in two minutes and hit $10 billion in just over an hour. The company's tills are set to shut at midnight Saturday.
At just past the halfway mark, the gross merchandise value swept past last year's dollar total of $17.7 billion. Shortly afterwards, sales surpassed 120.7 billion yuan, the total in 2016 in the local currency, which has appreciated against the dollar in the past year.
The event gets shoppers around China scouting for bargains and loading up their online shopping carts, while delivery men - and robots - are braced for an estimated 1.5 billion parcels expected over the next six days.
"This is a big event for China, for the Chinese economy," Joseph Tsai, Ali Baba's co-founder and vice chairman, said ahead of the sales bonanza. "On Singles Day, shopping is a sport, it's entertainment."
Tsai said rising disposable incomes of China's "over 300 million middle-class consumers" was helping drive the company's online sales - and would continue. "This powerful group is propelling the consumption of China," he said.
Analysts and investors will closely watch the headline sales number, which last year rose by nearly a third at the eighth iteration of the event - though that was slower than the 60 percent increase logged in 2015.
At Alibaba's Friday night gala, the company's co-founder and chairman, Jack Ma, hosted guests including the actress Nicole Kidman, singer Pharrell Williams and Chinese musicians and film stars such as Zhang Ziyi and Fan Bingbing.