Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's annual Singles' Day has already notched up 91.2 billion yuan ($20.5b) within the first hour.

Alibaba said sales were up 32 per cent from last year's early haul, CNBC reports.

Singles' Day, or 11.11 as it is commonly known as in China, celebrated on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, is considered to be the biggest shopping day of the year, surpassing the commercial success of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Singles' Day started as an anti-Valentine's Day movement in the 1990s. It is now considered a significant event in the global retail calendar.

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Singles' Day was turned into a shopping holiday in 2009. Just 27 merchants took part in the Alibaba's 11.11 festival 10 years ago, compared to participation from more than 180,000 brands last year.

Alibaba anticipates 500 million shoppers will take part in the 11.11 event this year, up from about 100 million recorded last year.

Alibaba clocked US$30.8 billion ($48b) worth of sales on Singles' Day last year, dwarfing the US online sales for Cyber Monday (US$7.9b).