Cyber Monday deals lure millions to Web

November 28, 2006|By Sandra Jones | Sandra Jones,Chicago Tribune

Once mainly the domain of upstart Internet retailers, Cyber Monday is now synonymous with something a little more traditional: deals, deals and more deals to keep consumers spending at established stores.

The term Cyber Monday, coined last year by a retail trade group, was intended to describe the surge in online shopping that now takes place the Monday after Thanksgiving. In the past, that was the day that people sat in front of their computer screens at work and shopped at mainly Internet retailing sites, like Amazon.com and Overstock.com, when they got tired of tromping through the mall.

But yesterday, traditional retailers, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and J.C. Penney used Cyber Monday as a major adjunct to their weekend promotional period, extending an already aggressive price-cutting atmosphere into the first week of the holiday shopping season.

At first glance it appears that shoppers responded -- in droves.

An estimated 61 million consumers shopped online yesterday, on par with the crowds of shoppers that visited stores on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that ranks among the busiest shopping days of the year.

The big numbers will likely have implications for other retailers going forward, as traditional stores continue to search for ways to grab market share on the Web.

By noon yesterday, visits to online retail sites had already surpassed the 2005 Cyber Monday peak of 3.1 million visitors per minute, according to Akamai Technologies Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based firm that tracks e-commerce traffic.

Traffic got so heavy that by late yesterday morning, a new Web site called cybermonday.com stalled after four times as many visitors as anticipated lined up to log onto the site. An extra computer server was added by the afternoon to manage the traffic.

"Retailers are using promotions to get people to log on and get shopping," said Helen Malani, chief shopping expert at Shopzilla, a Los Angeles-based online comparison shopping service.

Indeed, so-called bricks-and-mortar retailers have generally gotten more Web savvy. They dominated the top 10 online sites for Thanksgiving Day as consumers looked to get a jump on Black Friday doorbuster deals, some of which were only offered online, according to Hitwise, a New York-based online competitive intelligence firm.

Wal-Mart topped the list with an 18 percent share of Web traffic, followed by Best Buy at 8.8 percent and Amazon at 8.4 percent. Circuit City, Target, Sears, Toys `R' Us, Overstock.com, Kmart and J.C. Penney rounded out the top 10.

In addition, keeping track of the online deals got easier this year as Web sites devoted to Black Friday sales expanded to include Cyber Monday deals, such as GottaDeal.com and bfads.net. The National Retail Federation, the Washington D.C.-based group that originated the term Cyber Monday, also runs the cybermonday.com Web site, touting links to special discounts from 400 retailers, including 30 bargains good only for that day.

ComScore Networks Inc. forecasts that Cyber Monday sales will rise 24 percent to $599 million, up from $484 million in 2005, on par with the 24 percent increase predicted for the entire online holiday shopping season to about $24 billion.

The firm predicts the busiest online shopping day will be either Monday, Dec. 11, or Tuesday, Dec. 12. Last year the busiest day was Monday, Dec. 12.

Wal-Mart, CompUSA, Staples, Sports Authority, J.C. Penney, Best Buy, Danskin and JoAnn Fabrics were just a few of the traditional retailers offering Cyber Monday deals. The one-day offers ranged from free shipping with a $100 purchase at Macy's to $50 off coupons for home audio and GPS navigational systems at Circuit City.

Traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers are expected to account for 50 percent of online holiday sales this year, up from 40 percent last year, according to ComScore.

Sandra Jones writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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