Brits Embrace Cyber Monday With Online Sales Up 50% to $1.1 B

Police Called in as Shoppers Fight Over TVs at Midnight

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Shoppers don't need a Thanksgiving holiday to celebrate Cyber Monday and Black Friday.

In the U.K., where the shopping frenzy has taken off with wild abandon despite the absence of Thanksgiving as a starting point, Cyber Monday online sales were up 50% over last year to $1.1 billion, according to figures from IMRG and Experian.

Earlier, visits to shopping websites on Black Friday hit 181 million -- 86% up on last year and 50% above IMRG's forecast -- while spend reached $1.3 billion. Sales via smartphones and tablets were up nearly 50% this year to more than a third of online purchases, and some retailers, including John Lewis, introduced virtual queues to cope with the overwhelming e-commerce demand.

Amazon sold 5.5 million products on Friday, breaking last year's single-day record of 4.1 million, set on Cyber Monday in 2013. Visits to U.K. shops were up 10.8% on Friday compared to the same day last year, and in shopping centers they were up 29.4%, according to Experian Footfall.

On Saturday, business was down, with 1% fewer people shopping on Saturday – and 12% fewer in shopping centers – compared with 2013. Perhaps consumers were put off by Friday's news stories showing British shoppers – normally famous for their polite queuing –scrapping over cut-price TVs.

Not so long ago, U.K. consumers paid full price for everything in the run-up to Christmas, with the sales beginning on Dec. 26, known as Boxing Day. But since Amazon took Black Friday across the Atlantic in 2010, Boxing Day has been usurped as the biggest shopping day of the year, and the Thanksgiving holiday long weekend -- without the Thanksgiving holiday -- has become a significant, if controversial, fixture in the U.K. retail calendar.

Without the Thanksgiving connection, Black Friday has become known as a festival of greed. In one Walmart-owned Asda store, American-style cheerleaders performed as the doors opened at 8 a.m., but they were swept aside as customers – even adults with young children in tow – fought over electrical goods. Police were called in to Tesco stores in London, Manchester, Scotland and Wales, but, according to the Daily Mail, hundreds of shoppers who scrapped for big screen TVs are now struggling to sell them on eBay.

The atmosphere was calmer in department store John Lewis, which nevertheless experienced the highest sales in its 150-year history last week. Sales reached $280 million, up 22% on last year, comfortably surpassing its previous record of $257 million in the week before Christmas 2013. Sales of electrical goods were up 41% and online sales up 42%, while on Saturday, staff at John Lewis warehouses had to pack 87% more parcels than last year.

Retail analyst Nick Bubb said, "Judging by today's John Lewis sales figures, Black Friday spending on electricals was huge, but how much was pulled away from other high street retailers remains to be seen."

The shopping frenzy has not taken off in the same way across the rest of Europe. Experian reported shopper traffic up 4.4% in Germany and Poland on Black Friday and just 0.7% in France.

Mr. Bubb added, "All Black Friday is likely to do is bring forward business from December, reduce gross margins and undermine consumers' willingness to pay full-price again before Christmas."

And as shopper confidence in timely home delivery grows, people are placing online orders later,, according to IMRG, creating yet another festive shopping phenomenon -- Manic Monday -- on the second Monday in December.