Raleigh, N.C. — What started as a one-day rush to the computer for holiday shoppers has turned into an extended sales event.
The term "Cyber Monday" was coined in 2005 by a shopping trade group that noticed online sales spiked on the Monday following Thanksgiving. The theory was that workers, exhausted from a weekend in the mall, returned to their computers and spent free time surfing for deals.
While it's estimated that this year's Cyber Monday will be the biggest online shopping day of the year for the third year in a row, the sales don't end there.
Many of the deals available online started Friday and most last through the week, and retailers used Twitter to get the word out about short-lived deals – call it the modern "blue-light special."
Amazon.com was touting cyber savings, including 60 percent off a Panasonic VIERA 55-inch TV. Kindles and tablets are up to 20 percent off, and all cases for iPads and Apple products are about half off.
Sears was using Twitter to offer followers four $100 gift cards through Monday. Three of those remained by noon.
Kmart set up a Twitter account just to talk about the deals. @KmartDeals was sharing information about how shoppers could get diamond earrings at up to 75 percent off.
Walmart is among the merchants stretching Cyber Monday until Friday. The retailer was offering discounts,
including a 32-inch JVC TV for $199 and Apple iPod Touch for $179.
Shoppers can take additional costs off purchases by searching for coupon codes on sites like RetailMeNot.com.
According to research firm comScore, Americans are expected to spend $1.5 billion, up 20 percent from last year on Cyber Monday, as retailers have ramped up their deals to get shoppers to click on their websites.
Retailers are hoping the deals will appeal to shoppers like Matt Sexton, 39, who for the first time plans to complete all of his holiday shopping online this year on his iPad tablet computer. Sexton, who plans to spend up to $4,000 this season, already shopped online on the day after Thanksgiving known as Black Friday and found a laptop from Best Buy for $399, a $200 savings, among other deals.
"The descriptions and reviews are so much better online so you can compare and price shop and, for the most part, get free shipping," said Sexton, who lives in Queens, N.Y., and is a manager at a utility company.
Sexton also said that it's easier to return an online purchase to a physical store than it had been in previous years. "That helps with gifts," he said.
Shop safely online and off
The North Carolina Attorney General's Office issued a reminder Monday about possible pit-falls to online shopping.
“You keep your wallet in a safe place when you go shopping, and it’s just as important to guard your money and your personal information when you shop online,” said Attorney General Roy Cooper.
Other tips include:
Shop sites you know. Online merchants can pop up and disappear quickly, along with any sales. Research companies and check online reviews to make sure the merchant is above-board.
Compare prices online and off. Don't take a bold statement of savings at face value. Know the normal price for the gifts you want and factor in costs like shipping and returns.
Record contact information for the company. Customer service and delivery inquiries as well as returns are easier with a verifiable street address and phone number. Print out order confirmations to help with follow-up.
Only shop from secure sites. Look for a lock icon on the website and a web address that starts with “https” before entering any personal information.
Other days may top Cyber Monday
How well retailers fare on Cyber Monday will offer insight into Americans' evolving shopping habits during the holiday shopping season, a time when stores can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue. With the growth in high speed Internet access and the wide use of smartphones and tablets, people are relying less on their work computers to shop than they did when Shop.org, the digital division of trade group The National Retail Federation, introduced the term "Cyber Monday."
"People years ago didn't have ... connectivity to shop online at their homes. So when they went back to work after Thanksgiving they'd shop on the Monday after," said Vicki Cantrell, executive director of Shop.org. "Now they don't need the work computer to be able to do that."
As a result, the period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday has become busy for online shopping as well. Indeed, online sales on Thanksgiving Day, traditionally not a popular day for online shopping, rose 32 percent over last year to $633 million, according to comScore. And online sales on Black Friday were up 26 percent from the same day last year, to $1.042 billion. It was the first time online sales on Black Friday surpassed $1 billion.
For the holiday season-to-date, comScore found that $13.7 billion has been spent online, marking a 16 percent increase over last year. The research firm predicts that online sales will surpass 10 percent of total retail spending this holiday season. The National Retail Federation estimates that overall retail sales in November and December will be up 4.1 percent this year to $586.1 billion
But as other days become popular for online shopping, Cyber Monday may lose some of its cache. To be sure, Cyber Monday hasn't always been the biggest online shopping day. In fact, up until three years ago, that title was historically earned by the last day shoppers could order items with standard shipping rates and get them delivered before Christmas. That day changes every year, but usually falls in late December.
Even though Cyber Monday is expected to be the biggest shopping day this year, industry watchers say it could just be a matter of time before other days take that ranking.
"Of all the benchmark spending days, Thanksgiving is growing at the fastest rate, up 128 percent over the last five years," said Andrew Lipsman, a spokesman with comScore.