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Touted as the world biggest e-commerce event, China's ‘Singles Day’ dwarfs US Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales volumes. Reuters

Chinese consumers have spent billions of dollars shopping online for anything from diapers to diamonds on "Singles Day," a day of promotions that has grown into the world's biggest e-commerce event.

China's largest e-commerce giant, Alibaba Group, said sales by the thousands of retailers on its platforms for the 24-hour period on Saturday (11 November) amounted to 168.3 billion yuan ($25.3bn, £19.2bn), setting a new record for the company. It was 39% more than sales clocked last year on Alibaba's platforms of 120.7 billion yuan.

By comparison, American shoppers last year spent more than $5bn (£3.8bn) shopping online on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, according to Adobe, which tracks such data.

Shoppers also spent $3.39bn on Cyber Monday last year, the largest single online shopping day in the US, Adobe said.

In China, Alibaba's main rival, online retailer, did not provide a sales figure only for Saturday but said cumulative sales over the 11-day period starting on 1 Nov through Saturday totalled 127 billion yuan ($19bn).

Starting at midnight Friday, diamonds, Chilean frozen salmon, tires, diapers, beer, shoes, handbags, and appliances were shipped out from's distribution centres on trucks bound for deliveries across China.

China is already the world's largest e-commerce market and the share of online shopping that makes up all consumer spending grows every year. Boston Consulting Group forecasts online spending will rise by 20% a year, hitting $1.6trn by 2020, compared with 6% growth for off-line retail.

Singles Day was begun by Chinese college students in the 1990s as a version of Valentine's Day for people without romantic partners.

Zhang Jingjing, a 30-year-old clerk for an engineering company, prepared for Singles Day by building a shopping list on Alibaba's retail platform Tmall and watching for when prices dip. She then clicks and snags a long-sought item at a discount.

"I have often emptied my 'shopping cart' on Singles Day," Zheng said. "I have been watching those goods for a long time and know very well their original prices."

The spending gives a boost to the ruling Communist Party's efforts to nurture consumer-based economic growth and reduce reliance on trade and investment. China has 731 million internet users, up 6 percent from 2016, according to government statistics.