By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
The post-Thanksgiving shopping marathon continued Monday with nearly 100 million shoppers expected to troll online retailers for bargains on what has become known as Cyber Monday, helping to make the sector one of retailing's few bright spots.
About 700 e-commerce sites offered bargains on Monday in partnership with Shop.org, a trade group that coined the term several years ago after noticing a spike in online sales as Americans returned to the office -- and its high-speed Internet connections -- after the Black Friday weekend. The group said it anticipated 96.5 million shoppers to log on Monday, which would be a record.
Online deals offered Monday ranged from $79 for a 10-megapixel camera at Amazon.com to $15 off purchases of $75 or more at Walgreens to free shipping at urban apparel site Nappy Tabs. Many sites are extending their promotions for several days, with Wal-Mart calling its sale Cyber Week.
"Cyber Monday hopefully will be as big of a success this year as Black Friday," said Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, the sister trade group of Shop.org. "A lot of retailers are putting a lot of stock in Cyber Monday."
Online shopping is expected to fare better than the rest of the retail industry this holiday season. The research firm ComScore predicts that e-commerce sales for November and December will rise 3 percent, to $28.8 billion. Although that is well below the increases of 20 percent or more that the sector had experienced in recent years, it is still better than the 1 percent decline for total retail sales forecast by the NRF.
ComScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni said he was encouraged by strong online traffic over the Thanksgiving weekend. Black Friday e-commerce sales jumped 11 percent over last year, to $595 million. It was unclear whether some of those sales came at the expense of Cyber Monday, but Fulgoni said he believed retailers would still perform well and had adapted to shoppers' recessionary mindset.
"This year, they came in prepared," he said of the industry. "They anticipated a consumer with not a lot of spending power."
ComScore's results from Cyber Monday will not be available until Wednesday. Last year, it reported $846 million in sales, making it the third-biggest sales day of the holiday season.
But other experts worried that consumers might still not be ready to spend. Ken Cassar, vice president of industry insights for Nielsen, said that many shoppers purchase discretionary items such as clothing or electronics online -- and those can easily get cut out of a tight budget. A recent Nielsen survey also showed that 63 percent of consumers planned to shop online this holiday, down from 71 percent last year. Cassar said he expects online sales to be flat compared with last year.
"This is not going to be a gangbusters, positive holiday season for online retailers," he said.
According to a Shop.org survey, about 87 percent of online retailers planned to offer a promotion for Cyber Monday, up from 84 percent last year. And though the trend began as an open secret at the office, about 92 percent of consumers will shop from home this year thanks to the growth of residential high-speed Internet, the survey showed.
In addition, Phil Rist, vice president at BIGresearch, which conducted the survey for the trade group, said there might be more practical considerations at play.
"While many companies don't mind employees shopping online over their lunch hours, high unemployment and concerns over job security may cause more people to shop this Cyber Monday from the comforts of their own home," he said.