Shoppers spent nearly US$8 billion in the first 10 hours of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s “Singles Day” event on Wednesday, the firm said, reinforcing its status as the world’s biggest online retail promotion.

Total gross merchandise volume, a measure of sales, reached 50 billion yuan (US$7.86 billion) at 9:52 am and 22 seconds, it said on its website, after the promotion began at midnight.

Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma gestures during a speech at the National Taiwan University (NTU) in Taipei on March 3, 2015. Photo: AFP/Sam Yeh.

“The whole world will witness the power of Chinese consumption this November 11,” said Alibaba’s chief executive officer Daniel Zhang, in a release by the firm.

In comparison, desktop sales for the five days from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday in the United States last year stood at US$6.56 billion, according to Internet analytics firm comScore.

“Singles Day” is not a traditional Chinese festival, but Alibaba has been pushing the November 11 date — named for the number of ones it contains — since 2009 as it looks to tap an expanding army of Internet shoppers in China, which has the world’s biggest online population of 668 million.

At first it was marketed as an “anti-Valentine’s Day” in China, featuring hefty discounts to lure the country’s singletons and price-sensitive buyers.

Packages prepared for Single’s Day. Photo: Sina.

The event has received vocal support from the government at a time when China’s economic expansion is slowing and Beijing is trying to transform the growth model into a more sustainable one driven by consumption.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s office phoned Alibaba chairman Jack Ma hours ahead of the promotion was kicked off, “congratulating and encouraging the creation and achievement of the 11.11 event”, said a posting on a social media account of Tmall, the group’s business-to-consumer arm.

Sales reached US$9.3 billion for the day last year — the first time the event was expanded globally — up 60 percent year-on-year, the company’s figures showed.

Headquartered in the eastern city of Hangzhou, Alibaba does not sell products directly but acts as an electronic middleman, operating China’s most popular consumer-to-consumer platform, Taobao, which is estimated to hold more than 90 percent of the market.

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