BEIJING: China's annual online shopping day keeps getting bigger every year, with leading online retailer Alibaba reporting it had passed last year's $5.9bn record little over half way through the 24-hour retail marathon.

Singles Day originated some 20 years ago when university students chose it as an "anti-Valentine's Day" when single people could buy things for themselves. It was only five years ago that it took on its current form, when Alibaba-owned Tmall initiated it as an online shopping day, since when it has grown to become the world's biggest online retail sales day.

The much-anticipated event is now being targeted by brands in the same way they approach other significant dates in the retail calendar, such as Christmas or the Chinese New Year, Shaun Rein from China Market Research in Shanghai, told the BBC.

And more than 27,000 global brands have taken the plunge this year, some for the first time. For example, Tesla Motors, the US manufacturer of electric cars opened a store on Taobao and sold out its stock in a few hours. And international brands like retailer Uniqlo and sports goods maker Adidas reported a boom in sales.

But domestic brands were among the big winners. Phone maker Xiaomi reported it had sold 720,000 of its Mi smartphones within 12 hours. Huawei, the telecoms business, Haier, the white goods manufacturer, and Linshimuye, a furniture retailer, also featured among the top five sellers, as measured by gross merchandise value.

The scale of the day is extraordinary, with Alibaba shifting $1bn of goods within the first twenty minutes and $2bn after one hour. It expected sales revenues to be up almost 60% on last year at just over $9bn, more than twice the US's Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

CEO Jack Ma said he was now worried about making 260m deliveries on time. 

In a further indication of the rapidly shifting trends in Chinese ecommerce, around 43% of all sales value came via orders placed on mobile phones.

"We give them [shoppers] what they want, give them the value" Daniel Zhang, COO Alibaba, told Bloomberg TV. We'll focus on that, he added, and not worry about what rivals are doing.

Data sourced from Alibaba, BBC, Bloomberg, China Radio International; additional content by Warc staff