A surge of shoppers

Workers back on job after Thanksgiving rush online to buy

November 30, 2005|By ANDREA K. WALKER | ANDREA K. WALKER,SUN REPORTER

It's a good bet that your co-worker - not you, of course - sneaked some shopping into the workday Monday.

Known as Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving has become the online shopping equivalent of Black Friday, the day folks make a mad dash for shopping centers the day after Thanksgiving.

Cyber Monday is the first big surge in sales for many Internet retailers and some say the busiest day of the holiday season. Many people shop online from their workplaces, where they have faster connections to the Web.

Judging from the first wave of results, online shopping traffic seems to have met expectations. There's still debate over whether Cyber Monday is the busiest day for online browsing or shopping, but as Internet commerce grows, the day is valued by people in the industry as another benchmark of the holiday shopping season.

Customers using Visa credit and debit cards spent about $505 million on the Internet Monday, according to the company. The previous peak was on Nov. 15th, when consumers bought about $461 million worth of merchandise.

Pricegrabber.com, an online comparison shopping site, made $200 million in sales referrals for consumers, the biggest sales day of the year so far for the company and an 87 percent increase from a year ago.

"It's a huge day for people who shop online," said Kamran Pourzanjani, president and chief executive officer of Pricegrabber.com. "This is a trend we see year after year. Cyber Monday is hands down one of the most active of the year."

Even if it's not the biggest day for sales, most retailers agree it's an important one.

It ranked as the 12th-biggest day last year, according to market researcher comScore Networks, which tracks Internet spending patterns. It expects to release this year's Cyber Monday statistics today. Other retailers say they see online shopping peak in mid-December, near shipping deadlines.

Etoys.com, an Internet shopping site, said its busiest day in recent years has usually been Dec. 5 or 6. It did, however, extend its Thanksgiving holiday sales, of up to 60 percent off merchandise, through Monday night in anticipation of Cyber Monday.

"It's a busy day," said Sheliah Gilliland, public relations director of Etoys Direct. "We were significantly ahead of last year."

Wal-mart.com, the Web site for the world's largest retailer, got about 3 million visits Monday, but it expects early and mid-December, when the company thinks it will attract 25 million shoppers, to be its busiest time. The company has forecast this year to be its strongest holiday season on record, with 160 million visits, 60 percent more than last year.

Throughout the industry, online traffic Monday was more than 30 percent higher than a typical Monday, according to Akamai Technologies, a Massachusetts company that delivers content for more than 200 retail Internet sites.

Nielsen NetRatings said that Cyber Monday drew 15 percent more online shoppers than Black Friday. Industry experts believe that shoppers spend the Thanksgiving weekend window shopping and getting ideas about what they want to buy, then return to work Monday, where they can do price comparisons on the Internet.

"It's a big shopping day," said Pete Howard, senior vice president at Staples.com, which doesn't release specific sales numbers. "They've hit the bricks- and-mortar stores and now want to make their purchase online."

Last year, online shoppers shelled out $386 million on Cyber Monday, according to comScore Networks.

Heavy promotions and bargains drew in shoppers, industry analysts said. More than 40 percent of Internet sites planned discounts and promotions for the day this year, according to a survey from Shop.org, which is affiliated with the National Retail Federation trade group and BizRate Research.

Overall, online sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas are projected to increase 25 percent this year over last to $18 billion, according to Forrester Research. That's much faster than the 6 percent growth that the National Retail Federation predicts for traditional stores, although online is still a fraction of overall retail.

Consumers, once concerned with credit information being stolen, have become more comfortable shopping in cyberspace. Shoppers once only brought merchandise such as electronics, DVDs and books online. They steered away from clothing and shoes, items that they wanted to try on and see and feel. But this year, pricegrabber.com has seen a fourfold increase in shoppers wanting to buy apparel. Electronics, meanwhile, increased by 44 percent.

Analysts said retailers have improved Internet sites that once were slow and would crash frequently. Run as separate entities during the dot.com boom, retail sites are now synchronized with the bricks-and-mortar side of the business, facilitating services such as returns.

"Web sites are easier to navigate and better designed to help you find what you want," said Jay McIntosh, director of retail and consumer products at Ernst & Young. "Many Internet sites will send you e-mails when there are values and bargains. Retailers have greatly improved their sites."

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

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