Great expectations for Cyber Monday

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Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving shopping blitz, was officially deemed a success by the National Retail Federation, which said more than 140 million shoppers spent an average of $360.15, up 18.9% from last year. Today, which is dubbed Cyber Monday, is expected to be a big day for online retailers—and direct marketers hope to cash in on the shopping frenzy.

E-commerce spending on Friday spiked 42% to $434 million in sales versus last year, according to comScore Networks. The online measurement company said marketers are hoping those numbers are the harbinger of similar sales today.

"It could be stronger than we thought," said Gian Fulgoni, chairman of comScore. "I think the amount of discounting and promotional activity that's going on is really high."

He said it is not just e-commerce companies or direct marketers taking advantage of online selling. "The bricks and mortar retailers are really marketing aggressively online," Fulgoni said. He cited Circuit City and J.C. Penney Co. as examples.

Deborah Hohler, spokeswoman for Staples, the office supply giant, agreed this could be a banner day.

"We're expecting to have a great day today on," she said. "So far our sales have trended even better than last year on [Black] Friday and over the weekend." However, she said, today is no different than the last few days for holiday spending.

"It's not just the one day, but the entire weekend after Thanksgiving," she said.

The phrase "Cyber Monday" was coined last year by the NRF's division to denote a day in which marketers historically see a major spike in traffic and sales. Last year, Cyber Monday was the second biggest shopping day of the year, according to NRF.

For some direct marketers, though, today is not as big a deal.

"Cyber Monday is huge for a large majority of online marketers, but it is not as large a volume day for us," said Beth Weiss, corporate communications director at Omaha Steaks, a 90-year-old direct marketer.

She says that may be due to the fact that the company's trademark product is perishable. The Monday of the week preceding Christmas and Monday, Dec. 11, have been historically Omaha Steaks' two biggest days.

Weiss said the company is capitalizing on direct marketing tactics such as search engine marketing and good old-fashioned direct mail to a segment of its 2.6 million active customers. A holiday version of its catalog was dropped in September.

The company also increases the number of its in-bound telemarketing staff for the holiday season, like many other direct marketers, and more than doubled its staff by adding another 2,100 seasonal staffers to its year-round staff of 1,800.

MasterCard also says that Cyber Monday does not live up to the hype. A mere 10% of consumers it surveyed in its "Holiday Shopping Insights" report said they will shop on Cyber Monday. In 2005, Cyber Monday ranked as the No. 9 most active online shopping day in terms of actual transactions processed, while the following Monday, Dec. 5, was the most active online shopping day of the season.

However, nearly three out of four people plan to shop online during the holidays, and 26% say they will shop online more this year than they did last year.

Another industry watcher called Cyber Monday "just another good e-commerce shopping day."

CyberSource Corp. last week predicted that Dec. 18 will actually be the biggest online shopping day of 2006. That's based on the company's analysis of six years of historical transaction volumes and the number of shipping days remaining before Dec. 25.

The company found peak shopping days typically happen on the Monday occurring closest to Christmas when there is at least a week available for shipping.

Larry Flanagan, chief marketing officer at MasterCard Worldwide, agreed.

"Cyber Monday definitely has its share of online transactions, but it's possible that consumers are becoming more comfortable with buying gifts online and realize that they have a little bit more time to shop and be assured that their items will be delivered on time," Flanagan said.

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