According to the National Retail Federation, 72 million adults, or 31.9% of the U.S. adult population, are expected to browse e-commerce sites on Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving and the unofficial start to the online gift-buying season. That's an 18% increase over last year and comes after stronger-than-expected Black Friday sales. All that is good news for retailers as they head into their most critical time of the year.
$10.3 billion Black Friday
According to ShopperTrak RCT Corp., Black Friday this year came in at about $10.3 billion, a jump of 8.3% over last year's $9.5 billion take. Saturday sales also rose 5.4% to $6.l billion. ShopperTrak had expected an increase of no more than 4% to 5%.
The increase in Cyber Monday traffic is partly due to discounts. According to the National Retail Federation's Shop.org, 72% of online retailers are offering a Cyber Monday promotion, up from 43% two years ago.
"Retailers will be unveiling a variety of incredible one-day sales on Cyber Monday to bring consumers to their websites," said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org. "Online retailers consider Cyber Monday a virtual Black Friday and will be offering promotions that will be tough to beat later in the holiday season."
A number of traditional players are offering Cyber Monday promotions, including Circuit City, JC Penney, Sears and Lands End.
Free shipping seals the deal
This year free shipping is the real dealmaker, said Ellen Davis, an NRF spokesperson. In fact, she said some shoppers will bypass lower-priced merchandise on one site in favor of free shipping on another. According to Shop.org, 87% of online retailers are offering free shipping. Many of those sites are doing so with some restrictions, but 25% are offering free shipping with no conditions.
Ms. Davis said that's a big risk because if a shopper buys a $10 item, the retailer stands lose money on the transaction. But the idea is to engender customer loyalty so that the shopper will come back to spend more money later on.
"Free shipping isn't free for the retail industry," she said. "Many [retailers] are looking for creative ways to cut out other marketing opportunities because free shipping is coming out of that budget. Maybe they cut back on sweepstakes or search-engine marketing."
The term Cyber Monday was coined by Shop.org in 2005, when many retailers started reporting disproportionately high web traffic on the Monday following Thanksgiving. At the time, it was assumed that shoppers were going online at work in an effort to take advantage of faster, more secure internet connections. But the Cyber Monday shopping rush has continued to grow, even as more shoppers have high-speed connections installed at home.
"It might be when you're shopping at work you don't have family members peering over your shoulder," Ms. Davis noted.
With a longer-than-usual shopping time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as tepid assessments of consumer appetites, retailers are looking for ways to keep shoppers heading to stores later this week and into early December. Macy's is sending out employee discount cards for 20% off selected items between Nov. 28 and Dec. 3.