November 29, 2010

Cyber Monday Began Early This Year

Discounts offered online as early as Thanksgiving Day may have stolen some of thunder reserved for Cyber Monday, but retailers still expect the key holiday shopping day will attract bargain hunters who may not have had their fill over the holiday weekend.

Cyber Monday, which has become a popular phrase over the past five years, remains a prime shopping day for online bargain hunters who generally are returning to work after the Thanksgiving weekend. But it has been somewhat overshadowed by online promotions that have been released earlier in the season.

Many e-commerce retailers, including BestBuy.com and WalMart.com have offered Cyber Monday deals a day early, on newly coined "Cyber Sunday."

Experts say versatility is the main goal, as well as making sure online shoppers always find something that will inspire them to click on a sale.

John Thompson, senior vice president and general manager of BestBuy.com, said Cyber Monday remains a "really viable marketing concept," but smart retailers must offer choices.

"There's demand out there, but you have consumers spending their time differently "¦ If you don't have one group that shops early, you'll have those who say 'I'll enjoy my Thanksgiving and those same deals or as-good deals will be there Cyber Monday," Thompson told Reuters.

Major marketing firms say tactics have changed in luring consumers to shop online. In past years consumers returned to work on Monday to find their email inboxes jam-packed with online deals. Now those same deals often come on Black Friday or sooner.

Disneystore.com, for example, had record sales on Thanksgiving, according to Jim Fielding, president of Disney Stores.

According to web analytics firm IBM Coremetrics, online sales in the US were up 33 percent on Thanksgiving this year.

Interactive software marketing firm Responsys said just as many promotions are sent via email on Black Friday as on Cyber Monday. And as many as half of retailers planned to send email on Cyber Sunday as well as on Thanksgiving, the firm found.

PayPal said its first holiday spike in payment volume came on November 15, and on Black Friday, total payment volume rose 27 percent over last year.

Despite the growing e-commerce selling season that now extends beyond Cyber Monday in both directions, the Monday after Thanksgiving is still a prime focus for most retailers.

Nine in 10 retailers planned to offer a promotion for Cyber Monday, according to a Shop.org and BIGresearch survey.

"Retailers have built it into the consumers mind: 'Here's the day you'll get the best deal,'," IBM Coremetrics' Chief Strategy Officer John Squire told Reuters.

Some experts say bigger online sales come later in the season. Analytics firm comScore, for one, found 2009's heaviest spending day fell on December 13. Although, Squire said Cyber Monday was the best-performing day, with a 30 percent jump in US online sales.

"You will see a similar type of gain on Cyber Monday (this year)," said Squire. "The big treat is what happens on Cyber Sunday for those retailers who give those deals."

ComScore raised its forecast for US online holiday spending for the second time last Tuesday, saying it expects an 11 percent increase over 2009 holiday online sales. The new spending outlook should bring total holiday e-commerce spending to $32.4 billion, comScore said.

While online spending is still growing, comScore said it makes up only a small 7 percent of overall US retail sales.