Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group posted US$1 billion ($1.39b) of sales within the first five minutes of its Singles' Day shopping bonanza, Bloomberg reports.

Singles' Day, which Alibaba spearheaded in 2009, is a 24-hour online shopping event some commentators believe gives clues to the health of the Chinese economy.

The November 11 event dwarfs US sale events Black Friday and Cyber Monday and is set to tally up to $US21 billion worth of sales by 40,000 merchants in just 24 hours.

With basketball star Kobe Bryant headlining a star-studded, televised four-hour countdown gala orchestrated by Hollywood producer David Hill - known for his work on the Oscars, NFL Super Bowls and American Idol - the event aims to capture global attention and demonstrate Alibaba's vision for the future of retail.

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When the clock strikes midnight, the retail frenzy begins as millions of online purchases take place, with sales figures projected on a giant screen at the venue.

Alibaba Group Chief Marketing Officer Chris Tung called the gala "a global carnival, a world-class performance that involves the audience throughout the event with many touch points and is like nothing else you have experienced."

In the three weeks leading up to the event, Alibaba has been rolling out hi-tech innovations that bring virtual reality and gaming into the customer experience.

The company kicked off its Singles Day promotions last month with a live streamed, eight-hour fashion show that attracted more than six million viewers.

Shoppers were able to order in real time after spotting creations from brands including Burberry, GAP, Levi's, La Perla, Paul Smith, New Balance and Under Armour on the catwalk.
At tonight's gala, audience members will be invited to shake their phones to win prizes and even vote on how segments of the event are played out with an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure style app.

Outside the venue, shoppers using a Pokemon Go-style game are invited to chase Tmall's cat mascot around to win prizes from merchants including Shanghai Disneyland and Starbucks, driving foot traffic to Tmall vendors' shops in the real world as part of a drive to integrate the online and offline shopping experience.

And the world's first end-to-end virtual reality shopping experience this year allows 11.11 shoppers to browse, order and pay for goods through a VR headset at Macy's, Target, Costco, P & G, Chemist Warehouse, Freedom foods, Tokyo Otaku Mode, Matsumoto Kiyoshi.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma started using Singles Day, an unofficial Chinese holiday celebrating single people, to promote sales on its local B2C platform Tmall in 2009.
Locally known as the "bare sticks holiday" because of how it looks numerically, Singles Day began as an antidote to Valentine's Day in the 1990s by students at Nanjing University, who bought presents for each other to celebrate their bachelordom.

Now it is the world's biggest online shopping festival, with last year's event selling US$14.3 billion worth of goods in 24 hours - up 55 per cent on the 2014 results.

This year, an estimated 1.7 million couriers and postal workers are on standby to deliver about 760 million packages from 5000 warehouses to hundreds of millions of Chinese and international shoppers.