Back to work, shoppers cash in online

Posted November 29, 2009 12:02 p.m. EST
Updated November 29, 2009 3:58 p.m. EST

— Retailers expect to see another burst of activity as holiday revelers return to work. “Cyber Monday” is the day when holiday online shopping hits its fever pitch.

It is basically the online equivalent of Black Friday, Ellen Davis, of the National Retail Federation, said.

The Monday after Thanksgiving is one of the busiest online shopping days of the year. Last year, shoppers spent almost $850 million dollars on that day.

Those who endured long lines and sometimes-frigid temperatures to hit the stores on Friday spent only slightly more than they did last year, according to data released Saturday. Their counterparts who surfed the Internet for deals – a much smaller group that accounted for only a fraction of overall sales – spent much more than on the same day in 2008.

Web marketing analyst Coremetrics said its data showed the average amount online shoppers spent on Black Friday rose 35 percent as shoppers spent roughly $170.19 per order – up from $126.04 last year.

The company, based in San Mateo, Calif., also said Web shoppers also bought more items each time they checked out from an online merchant, snagging about 5.4 items in their carts, up from 4.6 last year. Overall, Web sales account for about roughly 7 percent of overall retail sales, according to Forrester Research. estimates its holiday sales will be as much as 36 percent higher this year.

With the biggest online shopping day about to dawn, online stores are touting deals just like their brick-and-mortar competitors do for the day after Thanksgiving.

Many are offering deep discounts, free shipping, free gifts with purchase or percentages off the entire site.

“Competition is fierce in the retail industry and the lines are blurring,” Davis said.

“Online retailers are competing with offline retailers; grocery stores are competing with toy stores. What that means for shoppers is the deals are going to be good.”

More than a year after the economy's collapse began rattling shoppers, industry observers said Friday's shopping sprees offered a strong start to the holiday season.

"We have struggled for a long time and one of the ways for the economy to get going again is for the consumer to begin to spend more freely," said Bill Martin, co-founder of research firm ShopperTrak, which released its sales figures Saturday. "And I think this is an indication they were willing to do that."

Preliminary sales data from Martin's organization, a Chicago research firm that tracks sales at more than 50,000 stores, showed shoppers spent $10.66 billion when they hit the malls on the day after Thanksgiving. That's only 0.5 percent more than last year when Black Friday sales rose a striking 3 percent.

The day is often used as an important barometer of shoppers' mindset: what kinds of items they're buying and what kind of discounts will lure them.

Stores offered deals on more practical items to woo recession-weary shoppers who more than ever might want gifts that the recipients will really appreciate.

Many of those deals were also available online, causing some Web sites to overload as shoppers tried to grab the bargains without the bustle.

Steve Segal, a 47-year-old attorney from Bridgewater, N.J., avoided the midnight crowds on Black Friday as he searched for a hair straightener for his daughter. But his shopping was derailed when the item was out of stock in stores and Kohl's Web site was overwhelmed by a crush of shoppers.

He wound up buying it elsewhere online – for a cheaper price and with free shopping.

"It was a vicious cyber-circle," he said.

Web surfers were planning Monday purchase ahead of time, as many Web sites advertised their Cyber Monday discounts. Aggregators, like, offered a directory of deals, special offers and targeted e-mail alerts.