The ever-increasing migration of shopping from brick-and-mortar establishments to virtual storefronts was in full display Monday, as consumers flooded the Web to take advantage of “Cyber Monday,” the biggest online shopping sale day of the year.
But beyond a huge spike in e-commerce driven by one-day-only deals, it appeared the biggest trend of the year was that shopping from laptops, phones and tablets had begun early -- starting Thanksgiving Day -- and continued longer than in previous years.
“Last year, we saw [consumers] waiting until after dinner to start shopping on Thanksgiving. Now they’re shopping all day long,” Jill Puleri, an analyst for IBM who was tracking Web traffic at major retailers throughout the day, told CNBC, adding that “your iPhone is now your newest utensil at the dinner table: sad, but true.”
It appeared e-shoppers went for second and third helpings of online deals as well, as data tracked by IBM showed the spike in Web traffic at major retailers were up by more than 25 percent – when compared to the previous year – in the early afternoon shopping hours Monday, with records being set every hour. Prior to 2010, sales traffic at major web retailers peaked around noon on the U.S. East Coast. But in a shift occurring last year that seemed set to repeat itself, consumers were logging on later in the day, presumably after they got home from work.
Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, an analyst for Forrester Research, told USA Today that the final tally on Cyber Monday would not be evident until late in the day, as people would likely shop for the best deals into the night.
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"People have their phones with them or their tablets," she said. "There's just more ambient shopping time. ... There's going to be a lot of shopping right up until the deadlines of whenever offers are available."
Another surprising trend that was helping prop up Cyber Monday traffic: a jump of consumers in Canada, where the shopping season around (U.S.) Thanksgiving is seen as overtaking Boxing Day, the British gift-giving holiday celebrated the day after Christmas, as the busiest shopping period of the year
"The level of awareness around Cyber Monday last year was fairly limited. Savvy web shoppers would know about it, but in terms of mass appeal in the Canadian population … it was nowhere near where we expect it to be this year," Thierry Hay-Sabourin, director of e-commerce for Future Shop and Best Buy Canada, told The Canadian Press.
Revenue from shoppers was expected to add up to something in the vicinity of $1.5 billion, a 20 percent spike from 2011, analystics firm comScore said.
Tablets and Boots
The most popular items consumers were searching for Monday were tablet computers, with Amazon’s Kindle Fire, offered at the site for $129 with a special coupon, a top search term, according to Google. Ugg boots were also a hot item, according to Experian Marketing Services, which said the retailers receiving the most searches were Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Amazon, Sears and Target.
Client sales on Amazon.com were up 52 percent during the first part of Cyber Monday, software solutions company ChannelAdvisor reported.
“We are planning so many Cyber Monday deals that Cyber Monday isn’t just a day to us — it’s a whole week,” a note on Amazon.com said.
To deal with the increased customer flow, Best Buy added additional staff and virtual capacity.
“It’s like a military-class operation to really make sure we’re responsive and decisive as issues come up,” Scott Durchslag, president of Best Buy’s e-commerce division, told The Washington Post. “It’s not just about Black Friday and Cyber Monday anymore — the shopping week started for us on Monday.”
Speaking specifically on Best Buy, Michael Lasser, a broadline retail analyst for UBS who covers the company, said the firm was engaging in “a continuation of their strategy from last year” where they were “trying to be very aggressive across most channels.”
eBay a Big Winner
Among other retailers that appeared to be having an good day, given data available so far, eBay, which is moving away from its roots as an online auction block toward more traditional online retail, was a standout.
"The early eBay numbers are impressive," R.J. Hottovy, an equity analyst at Morningstar, told Reuters. "They put together an effective marketing plan across several channels this holiday season - online, television and print.
“The numbers suggest they're having success reintroducing consumers to the 'new eBay’,” he added.
It remains to be seen if eBay also has success at its other initiative: to get consumers to shop on multiple “Cyber Monday”-style days throughout the holiday season. Since 2007, when the company identified the second Monday in December as the heaviest shopping day of the month, it has been promoting special deals on “Green Monday.”
With some companies becoming more lenient with allowing their employees to shop from their desks, according to The Christian Science Monitor, the seemingly never-ending promotions might actually end up causing a paradigm shift in the white-collar workplace, with employees actually happy to be at work on Monday morning.