Retailers aim for record Cyber Monday

Retailers aiming to head off tepid holiday sales projections have launched an aggressive Cyber Monday campaign, offering more online deals earlier in the season and beefing up their Web sites.

Many retailers decided not to wait for the traditional Cyber Monday launch date, the Monday after Thanksgiving, to begin offering online deals.

Land’s End unveiled its “door busters” the day before Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart kicked off Internet sales on Saturday. And at Amazon.com, Cyber Monday began on Sunday and will extend until Dec. 3rd.

“We are planning so many Cyber Monday deals that Cyber Monday isn’t just a day to us — it’s a whole week,” a note on Amazon.com said.

It may already be working. Internet sales on Thanksgiving day were up 32 from last year to total $633 million in sales, according to research firm comScore.Cyber Monday revenue is expected to grow 20 percent from last year to $1.5 billion.

But retailers have an uphill battle. Holiday spending overall is expected to grow only modestly this year, and consumers are still spending less than they did before the recession.

The National Retail Federation reported Sunday that more people hit the stores this Thanksgiving weekend than they did last year, spending on average $423 — roughly $25 more than they did last year.

But whether increased sales over Thanksgiving weekend will translate into higher sales throughout the holiday shopping season remains to be seen. To combat the stingy projections, some retailers opened at 8 p.m. on Thursday, while others offered to match the prices of their online competitors. But some analysts have projected that retailers would only succeed in prompting customers to buy gifts earlier in the holiday season, rather than spend more.

The industry’s online push has reached one milestone: This is the first year that more than half the people who shopped during the Thanksgiving weekend did so online, according to National Retail Federation.

The Disney Store put all of its Black Friday specials up for grabs on its Web site on Wednesday, but the company isn’t stopping there. It released a whole other round of discounts on Cyber Monday.

“It’s the biggest online shopping day of the year for us,” said Paul Gainer, executive vice president of the Global Disney Store.

Last year, 70,000 people visited the company’s Web site on Cyber Monday. This year, Gainer says, he’s expecting upwards of 1 million visitors — more than four times the number of visitors on a given weekend day.

Cyber Monday, a term coined seven years ago by Shop.org, has expanded to rival Black Friday for consumers’ dollars. Last year, Cyber Monday sales totaled $1.25 billion, making it the biggest Internet shopping day in history.

Eight in 10 retailers surveyed by Shop.org, the online division of the National Retail Federation, said they planned to offer Cyber Monday discounts, while 58 percent of people with Internet access at the office say they plan to shop online during the workday.

Retailers have spent months ramping up their Web sites and hiring seasonal workers to help keep up with rising online demand. The Disney Store has more the doubled its staff at its distribution and guest services centers in Memphis, hiring nearly 1,000 extra workers to help fill online orders and answer customers’ questions.

Others retailers have added extra tech staff, including Best Buy.

“It’s like a military-class operation to really make sure we’re responsive and decisive as issues come up,” said Scott Durchslag, president of Best Buy’s e-commerce division. “It’s not just about Black Friday and Cyber Monday anymore — the shopping week started for us on Monday.”

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