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Singles’ Day: Alibaba takes £2bn in minutes

Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group, and Nicole Kidman at the countdown to opening in Shanghai

Chinese online shopping giant Alibaba says it took in nearly 20bn yuan (£2.1bn) in sales in a matter of minutes at the opening of its Singles' Day annual discount sale extravaganza.

The event, originally a celebration of China's lonely hearts, has become the world's biggest online shopping spree, with takings beat those of its US equivalents, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, combined.

Alibaba said gross merchandise volume (GMV) exceeded 10bn yuan (£1bn) in a little over three minutes and the total had reached 19.1bn yuan in under six minutes – more than the entire day's sales in 2012.

A screen shows the value of goods being sold at Alibaba Group's Singles' Day global shopping festival
A screen shows the value of goods being sold on Singles' Day

Nicole Kidman and Pharrell Williams were among the stars who helped get the eighth Singles' Day off to a glittering start.

The actress and the singer joined co-founder and chairman Jack Ma and Chinese musicians and film stars such as Zhang Ziyi and Fan Bingbing in Shanghai to count down to the start at midnight on Friday.

Last year it was David and Victoria Beckham and Kobe Bryant.

As soon as the virtual doors opened, shoppers rushed in to fill up their carts with bargains.

Pharrell Williams performs with Hong Kong singer Karen Mok
Pharrell Williams performs with Hong Kong singer Karen Mok

One online retailer is offering a lifetime supply of baijiu liquor for a single payment of 11,111 yuan (£1,275).

The price is a reference to 11.11, the first name given to the day, meant to represent both the date (11 November) and the single people doing the shopping.

An estimated 1.5 billion parcels will need to be delivered over the next week.

The sale is seen as a barometer of Chinese consumer confidence and is closely watched by analysts and investors.

The headline sales number is likely to top last year's total of 113bn yuan (£13bn), an increase of nearly a third from 2015.

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