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Cyber Monday: Work ethic is no match for shoppers' zeal for a deal (+video)

Black Friday just set a record for e-commerce in a single day: $1 billion. But deal-hungry digital shoppers, despite being back at work, were pushing the tally for Cyber Monday higher still.

By Staff writer / November 26, 2012

Daniel Holmquist raises his forklift to the top shelf of the Sierra Trading Post Fulfillment Center's racks to a pick a product off the shelves at the facility in Cheyenne, Wyo. on Nov. 13. This year cyber Monday it is expected to be the biggest online shopping day of the year for the third year in a row.

Kyle Grantham/Star-Tribune/AP

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Los Angeles

Cyber Monday may have begun as the kid brother to Black Friday, but it sure has grown up. The day’s online sales are expected to ring in near $1.5 billion, according to the online analysis firm comScore, topping the one-day record for e-commerce of $1 billion rung up the day after Thanksgiving.

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“What this Cyber Monday tells us more than anything is that consumers are ready to buy no matter where they are or what they are doing if that is the moment that the best deal shows up,” says New York-based Kevin Regan, senior managing director of the management consulting firm FTI Consulting.

The upstart shopping day began its jog to the head of the class last year when Cyber Monday was the busiest shopping day of the year, according to Experian’s general manager of global market research, Bill Tancer. Online traffic on this first-day-back-to-work grew from 138 million online visits in 2010 to 177 million total US visits to the top 500 retail sites in 2011, a 29 percent increase, notes Mr. Lancer.

Faster Internet connections, the proliferation of daily deals, and smart phones capable of laser-targeting the best prices have all led to this explosion of digital shopping. But the biggest reason may be the sheer dedication of today’s shopper to getting the best deal possible, says Lancer.

“There is no indication that shoppers are getting tired of comparison shopping or checking as many sites as possible before actually purchasing,” he says, adding that on the contrary, today’s highly-mobile and gadget-equipped consumers are maximizing the ability of their tablets and smart phones to lead them to the best online deals.

Even before the day picked up its nickname from a shop.com press release back in 2005, Patrick Byrne, CEO of e-tailer Overstock, says his team tracked this uptick after the November holiday. 

“People were exhausted after their first weekend of holiday shopping,” he points out, and heading online was a relief. “They were coming back into the office to do some real shopping,” he says, using the faster Internet speeds most users found at work.

That equation has changed as broadband connections have become more widespread and commonplace. Shoppers are no longer tethered to their work-desks, as tablets and smartphones for easy price comparisons and access to daily online coupons have turned the day into a sprint.

Cyber Monday and other specially-anointed shopping days early in the holiday season hit growing pains last year when some major sites – most notably Best Buy – waited until a few days before Dec. 25 to inform consumers that their orders would not be fulfilled due to everything from lost information to shortages of inventory.

Consumers have a short fuse for this kind of online performance, with recent studies revealing that up to 62 percent of users will leave a site if they encounter more than two obstacles.

E-tailers have to plan for the worst moments, notes Byrne, adding that as a solely online business, his company has worked hard to anticipate problems before they can undermine sales.

“We plan for the spikes, not the average, and build our systems to handle that kind of inventory and online demand,” he says, adding that an educated consumer is his best customer. “People are getting smarter all the time with apps and other tools,” he says, adding that he expects Cyber Monday to grow at least 10 percent this year, “along with the rest of Internet traffic.”

While online businesses have shored up their defenses against breakdowns, Cyber Monday shoppers will benefit from a hard reality of retailing, says Niraj Shah, CEO and co-founder of Wayfair.com, the second largest online home goods retailer.

Retailers plan ahead for the holidays and order a certain volume of product to stock in US-based warehouses, he notes. Once those products are sold, he adds via e-mail, “there is no possibility of new shipments coming in by the holidays, so there really is a limited quantity of in-demand products.”

“Cyber Monday is an opportunity for consumers to score deals on the products that retailers are predicting to be in demand for the season,” he says. “Shopping early is important if you are interested in finding the season’s hottest gifts.”

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