The holiday shopping season got off to a good start at malls this weekend, and online shopping is also ramping up even ahead of so-called Cyber Monday, when millions of Americans make a few more purchases from keyboards in the workplace.
The online lure this year includes more retailers offering web-only specials, and more offering free shipping.
The deals range from flat screen TVs to the popular toys called Squinkies, little figurines at the other end of the cost spectrum. In the personal technology arena, the popularity of Apple iPads and MacBooks is helping to create enticing sale prices on rival laptop computers and netbooks.
Some 41 percent of retailers will be offering a one-day online sale on Monday, in a coordinated effort to lure shoppers online following "Black Friday" and the other big retail days of the post-Thanksgiving weekend. That number, from a survey released this week by the National Retail Federation's Shop.org division, is up from 33 percent last year. About 88 percent of retailers plan to have some special sales promotions available that day, the survey found.
Of course, as stores compete for both foot and online traffic, the competing sales and promotions have already begun. "Online cyber steals all day today!" the J.C. Penney website blared on Saturday, next to a separate promotion for bargains available if you go to a store in person. You can expect the deals will continue Sunday and beyond.
In fact, retailers have stretched out the concept beyond Monday, to the point that Walmart is advertising "Cyber Week" offers including a stand mixer (by Hamilton Beach) with 12-piece baking set that will go for $49 (versus the $71 current list price). One place to check for bargains is on corporate feeds sent via Twitter.com, such as (for Walmart) http://twitter.com/walmartspecials.
Sony's website offers a 40-inch version of its high-definition Bravia TV set for $550, marked down from $700.
Meanwhile, Sony, L.L. Bean, and numerous other retailers are offering free shipping during the holiday season. The Shop.org survey found that about 22 percent of online retailers will provide free shipping on all purchases, up from 16 percent last year.
One way to browse the deals is on Shop.org's own website devoted to cyber Monday: http://www.cybermonday.com
The site aggregates items from more than 700 retailers, and sorts them in several ways such as by category (computers, apparel for women, etc.), by deals on hot products, or by retailers with free shipping. The site will post a "deal of the hour" item during cyber Monday.
The lines between Black Friday and Cyber Monday have blurred as retailers promote both at once. Amazon.com, the quintessential e-tailer, sent out a "Black Friday" promotion via email. And on Black Friday, a sizable share of America’s purchases was happening online.
The Web research company Coremetrics estimates that online sales volume rose 16 percent on Black Friday itself, compared with that day last year, the Associated Press reported Saturday. Still, many shoppers prefer to see what they're buying up close. Online purchases remain a relatively small share of US retail sales, both during the holidays and year round.
Comscore, another market-tracking firm, estimates that non-travel retail purchases online have totaled $110 billion for the first 10 months of the year (up 9 percent from that period in 2009). The holiday season, the firm predicts, will add another $32 billion in sales – up 11 percent from the final two months of 2009.