E-retailers gear up for 'Cyber Monday'

Launched in 2005 as a marketing ploy, the kickoff to the online holiday season offers discounts to Web shoppers

US retailers are using discounts to lure shoppers to the Web for the online holiday shopping season, which officially begins Monday.

Dubbed "Cyber Monday" by Shop.org, the online division of the National Retail Foundation, the first day back to work after Thanksgiving for most Americans is meant to serve as an online counterpart to "Black Friday." The latter is the traditional kickoff of holiday buying season, which is said to be both the busiest shopping day of the year and the day many brick-and-mortar retailers see their bottom line turn profitable after months of red ink.

On Cyber Monday, the story goes, office workers shirk their responsibilities, instead using their employer's high-speed Internet connections to hunt for gifts.

But analysts say the day may be more marketing hype than reality. In the two years since the term was coined, Cyber Monday failed to make top-10 online shopping days of the year. In 2006, top honors went to Dec. 13; in 2005, Dec. 12 topped the list.

Nevertheless, the notion could create a self-fulfilling reality. A number of online retailers, including Sears, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Staples are marking the day with special discounts. A survey of Shop.org members indicated that roughly a third of the promotions are one-day sales.

"As more people rely on the Internet for holiday shopping, retailers have stepped up their game to compete," said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org. "This year, promotions on Cyber Monday are extremely competitive as online retailers use an assortment of one-day specials to send shoppers online."

By most indications, the online shopping season is off to a strong start. Web sales through Nov. 18 reached $7.04 billion, up 17 percent from the same period last year. Analysts forecast that overall online holiday sales this year will hit $29.5 billion, a 20 percent jump from 2006.

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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