BEIJING: Online retailers in China are fostering the industry's development through ramping up their focus on Singles Day, an event increasingly fulfilling the same role as Cyber Monday in the US.

Singles Day started as an alternative to Valentine's Day in the 1990s, with unattached students buying gifts for their friends without partners. November 11 was the chosen date as it numerically reads 11.11.

This occasion has since grown into a broad equivalent of "Cyber Monday" in the US, the day after the weekend of Thanksgiving when ecommerce companies regularly run deals and discounts.

Alibaba, which owns Taobao and Tmall, two leading online retail hubs, secured RMB19.1bn ($3bn) in revenues during this 24-hour period, over three times the RMB5.2bn generated last year.

More specifically, some 10m people per minute were visiting its sites as sales began at just after midnight on Saturday, while purchases worth RMB1bn were made in only 37 minutes.

Fully 213m shoppers completed transactions via these platforms, keen to take advantage of discounts around the 50% mark on many products.

"This is very, very big for us," Steve Wang, vice president of and head of website operations, told the Associated Press.

Among the other players seeking to tap into Singles Day were 360buy, Dangding and Suning in the electronics category, Qunar, the travel company, and Vancl, the fashion specialist.

The China Internet Network Information Center, an official government body, has reported there are 538m web users in China, a penetration of 39.3%, showing considerable room for growth remains.

"The rate is 70% in Western countries, which indicates China's large potential for online purchasing," said Jing Linbo, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Tom Doctoroff, North Asia area director and Greater China chief executive of JWT, the advertising agency, argued the combination of major events and gift-giving were particularly potent.

"China is a country fixated on transactions: social, financial and commercial," he told the Wall Street Journal.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff