Online shopping took off Friday in China as merchants slashed prices by up to 50 percent to mark \"Singles Day,\" spurring millions of people go on a shopping spree. Taobao Mall (Tmall), China\'s largest B2C marketplace, secured orders worth 2 billion yuan (317 million U.S. dollars) in just 16 hours between Friday midnight and 4 p.m., said the website run by Internet giant Alibaba. The trading volume is still on the increase as the 24-hour sales campaign, which involves over 2,000 brands and millions of commodities, will not end until midnight Saturday. Unattached Chinese women and men celebrate Singles Day on November 11 as the date is composed of the number \"one,\" a number evocative of the Chinese word for bachelor -- \"bare stick.\" Although it started as a campus joke in the 1990s, the unofficial Chinese festival has in recent years evolved into a real one, a boon for businesses as savvy merchants kick off sales promotions in the hope of boosting the traditionally bleak retail period. This year is viewed as particularly special as the year 2011 also ends in the festival\'s favorite numbers. Reflecting this, trading on Tmall this year is also more robust. The website sold 936 million yuan worth of goods on the last Singles Day, the amount it has achieved just in 10 hours this year. Trading volume reached 100 million yuan eight minutes after the campaign was launched at midnight, according to a Tmall statement. As of 4 p.m., Tmall has received 10 million orders, which means the website has taken 178 orders per second. \"My Singles Day started with clicks on the mouse,\" said Wang Shanli who lives in the eastern tourism city of Hangzhou. Wang said that she began searching for bargains on Tmall a week ago and stored her favorites in the shopping cart so she would not waste any time snapping things up when the promotion starts. \"The stuff you want to buy can sell out any time, so you can not be late even by a second. This is so exciting -- a war and a carnival at the same time,\" said Yu Xian, who also lives in Hangzhou. The festival of single people has turned into a festival of online shopping, it would seem. Besides Taobao, many other famous online shopping websites including electronics seller 360buy.com and clothing sites Vancl, M18.com and Moonbasa.com also rolled out sales campaigns. As for real malls, Singles Day is not the best time for sales promotion as it is still a working day when people do not have much time to go out, but it is different when it comes to online shopping, said Zhang Zhouping, a researcher with the China E-Commerce Research Center. Online shopping has become the new engine of China\'s consumer economy as the traditional retail industry remains sluggish, said Qu Weizhi, president of the China Electronics Chamber of Commerce. Trading volume of China\'s online retail market stood at 212 billion yuan in the third quarter this year, up 58 percent compared with the same period last year.