Cyber Monday May Break Records

Everyone knows about Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving in the US when stores offer amazing deals, many people start their holiday shopping, and retailers often get “into the black” for the year. Most of you also know about Cyber Monday. That’s today, and it looks like it might break some records.

Cyber Monday is the day after the long weekend, when those of us in the US get back to work. We point with pride to our reputation for productivity, but few of us can resist the call of high-speed Internet access at the office to goof off at least a little bit. On Cyber Monday, though, we productively focus our goofing off on online holiday shopping. Online retailers respond with a plethora of deals: free shipping, special prices, BOGOs, and the list goes on and on.

Cyber Monday has gotten bigger and bigger every year. This year might be the biggest yet, if the numbers Greg Sterling collected in his article for Search Engine Land can be believed. While the sample is really too small to tell, strong Black Fridays the last two years have led into strong Cyber Mondays. This year’s Black Friday broke some serious records.

Sterling drew his information from a number of reputable sources, including IBM, the National Retail Federation (NRF), comScore, Channel Advisor and Shoppertrak. Is the US economy weak right now? You wouldn’t know it from all the shopping going on. Retailers lured consumers in with “doorbuster” deals and earlier opening hours, and buyers responded in droves.

Here’s a point worth keeping in mind when tracking spending on this Black Friday and the ones we see in the future: it’s not just places of business that boast fast Internet access anymore. Many of us enjoy fast access in our homes. The number of quick home connectors keeps increasing every year, to the point where this year, observers saw a significant amount of online shopping going on throughout the weekend.

Online consumers rose early, but perhaps not as early as their brick-and-mortar shopping counterparts getting in line for the best deals. IBM noted that they were most active on Black Friday between 6 AM and 2 PM, according to Sterling. That’s even before some of the really aggressive Cyber Monday deals that kick in today. All told, according to Sterling, holiday shopping sales today are expected to total more than $1 billion.

Is there a good reason for this optimism? According to the Wall Street Journal , Black Friday sales this year were more than six percent higher than the same day in 2010. That’s quite impressive, considering 2010′s Black Friday sales showed a gain of 0.3 percent of 2009, which the newspaper characterized as “anemic.” Figures used came from ShopperTrak, a retail data firm that collects its information by measuring traffic from equipment installed in stores.

There’s even more cause for optimism if you look at figures for the entire four-day weekend. The National Retail Federation, which ran a survey on close to four thousand people, reported that sales rose more than 16 percent for this period.

It’s in the NRF’s report that we start seeing the impact of online shopping over the weekend. After noting that consumers, on average, spent nearly $400 on Black Friday weekend, NRF broke it down and found that around $150, or more than a third, came from online sales. That’s more than in previous years, and worth keeping in mind as a trend to watch.

ComScore reported that it saw even larger gains in US online shopping over the weekend. For the holiday season to date (starting November 1), comScore noted that $12.7 billion has been spent online, a 15 percent rise over last year. For Black Friday alone, though, online cash registers rang to the tune of $816 million in sales – a rise of 26 percent over Black Friday last year, and the heaviest online spending day to that date in 2011. Even Thanksgiving Day saw an 18 percent increase in online spending over the same day in 2010. That’s particularly impressive, notes comScore, since that day is usually a light one for online holiday spending.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the biggest winners online were the “big-box” retailers. They all saw double digit gains in visitors over this time last year. In order, these big e-tailers included Amazon, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, and Apple.

So will this impressive shopping behavior continue throughout the rest of the holiday season? More importantly, will today set a record? Sterling seems to think so, in both cases. First, he points out that a number of prominent articles appeared in the New York Times and elsewhere telling consumers that Black Friday’s deals might not be the best ones of the season, and to wait until the first or second week in December. That’s when retailers will be eager to move the inventory that didn’t get purchased during the Thanksgiving weekend, so they offer even better bargains.

As a side note, I found the NY Times article well worth reading, especially for its coverage of Decide.com. This website pulls data from a multitude of sources to figure out the best time to buy electronics devices. Just put a product name into its search box and it gives you the current price and tells you whether to buy or wait, within a certain percentage of certainty; it even tells you how much you can expect the price to change. I found out that right now is a good time to buy an iPad 2 or Dell desktop, since prices on those products aren’t expected to get much lower – but if I want a Samsung Galaxy Tablet, it’s a good idea to wait.

With these kinds of tools at their disposal, savvy shoppers (online and otherwise) will spread out their holiday purchasing for the real deals. Speaking of the electronically savvy consumer, if you’ve been ignoring mobile shoppers until now, you’re going to pay for it big time this season. Sterling pointed to IBM’s figures on a remarkable increase in shopping on mobile devices. Purchases made on mobile devices (as opposed to OF mobile devices) increased to nearly 10 percent, as compared to a touch over three percent last year. The iPhone and iPad were the number one and two devices  used by mobile shoppers, with Android coming in third, at 4.1 percent. Those using an iPad for their shopping converted more often, with rates reaching 4.6 percent, as opposed to 2.8 percent on average for all shoppers using mobile devices.

The increases in both online holiday shopping during the Thanksgiving weekend and shopping on mobile devices represent trends worth watching, especially if Cyber Monday doesn’t quite match predictions. It could be a sign of consumers spreading their spending out a little more this holiday season. But even so, all indicators seem to be pointing to a record-breaking Cyber Monday. Here’s hoping you stand ready to benefit from it. Good luck, and happy holidays! 

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