Cyber Monday 2009

The real retail success story for the 2009 holiday shopping season is not the marginal Black Friday gains reported by some traditional retailers amid deep discounting, but the strides made by online retailers and the many new mobile and digital tools shoppers are using to facilitate their holiday transactions.

Cyber Monday is a term coined in 2005 by the National Retail Federation in an attempt to establish an online equivalent to the Black Friday shopping event. The idea at that time was that many shoppers, following a weekend of brick-and-mortar shopping, would return to their offices and use their employers’ high-speed internet connections to fill in their holiday shopping.

In fact, the term Cyber Monday is already becoming obsolete, since far more Americans have high-speed internet at home, and online retailers are pushing price promotions that predate Black Friday.

To this point, online sales on Black Friday alone were up 11% over 2008 to $595 million, according to ComScore, which monitors online traffic and commerce.Cyber Monday sales increased just 5 percent over 2008, to $887 million, ComScore also reported. Among the top 500 online retailers, sales increased 14 percent over 2008 according to Coremetrics, another online research firm. Nearly half of Cyber Monday shopping was done from home locations, underscoring the growth of high-speed residential internet.

Americans are spending more online, and they’re buying more items as well. On Cyber Monday alone, Coremetrics noticed that online shoppers were buying 30% more items than the previous year among the top 500 online retailers.

This spending was highly concentrated among top online retailers. Amazon saw 16 percent of site visits on Cyber Monday, pushed partly by demand for their Kindle reading devices. Walmart followed with nearly 10 percent of site visits, followed by Target (5 percent), Best Buy (4 percent) and JC Penney (3 percent). In other words more than one-third of online shoppers visited these five of the top 500 online shops this year.

Much of the success of online shopping in 2009 can be attributed to smarter practices on the part of online retailers. Many are adapting proven techniques from traditional retailers: special “early-bird” savings (many starting days before Black Friday), free “gift-card” savings and free shipping were among the most popular draws.

But a big part of the story takes place behind-the-scenes. Shoppers are using more and more digital and mobile tools to facilitate both online and physical shopping transactions. They go online for product reviews and then click through to find nearby store locations with the best prices and inventory. SmartPhone applications like ShopSavvy allow shoppers to locate an item by photographing and submitting the barcode, then receiving an analysis of best prices online and in local stores, complete with store information and driving directions. Traditional retailers like Ann Taylor used e-mail to inform their best customers about extended savings hours on Black Friday. And other brick-and-mortar retailers like Walmart and Target pushed their online store offerings to help protect against the growing trend of online purchasing.

Last year ShopperCulture challenged whether Black Friday is still an accurate indicator of economic health. This year, we ask, are one-day sales figures based on Black Friday and Cyber Monday truly the best barometers of retail sales? While single-day figures make for compelling sound bites, we think a better barometer of year-end sales would be to look at the extended weekend as a whole (or longer), both online and offline, taking into account not only traffic and sales but also sales margin, in order to account for the deep discounts that have become a mainstay of holiday shopping.