Online retailers pin hopes on 'Cyber Monday'

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The Independent Online

After a modest start to the US holiday shopping season with "Black Friday," online retailers are looking to "Cyber Monday" for a boost in sales.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), Americans spent 41.2 billion dollars over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, seen as the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season, compared to 41.0 billion dollars a year ago.

Many more Americans hit stores and websites - 195 million compared to 172 million a year ago, the NRF survey said - but their average spending fell to 343.31 dollars per person from 372.57 dollars.

"Shoppers proved this weekend that they were willing to open their wallets for a bargain, heading out to take advantage of great deals on less expensive items like toys, small appliances and winter clothes," said NRF president and chief executive Tracy Mullin.

"While retailers are encouraged by the number of Americans who shopped over Black Friday weekend, they know they have their work cut out for them to keep people coming back through Christmas," Mullin said in a statement.

According to Internet tracking firm comScore, e-commerce spending hit 595 million dollars on Black Friday, up 11 percent over last year, and the NRF said 28.5 percent of Americans shopping over the weekend were doing so online.

ComScore chairman Gian Fulgoni said the "acceleration in spending suggests the online holiday season may be shaping up slightly more optimistically than anticipated.

"It may also reflect the heavy discounting and creative promotions being put forth by retailers that now encompass the use of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter," Fulgoni added.

He said Cyber Monday and the subsequent weeks "will be the real test for how online retailers fare this season."

The NRF said 96.5 million Americans plan to shop online on Cyber Monday, up from 85 million in 2008.

"Americans appreciate the convenience of shopping online, which doesn't require standing in line, circling for a parking spot, or even changing out of your pajamas," said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org.

Cyber Monday used to be a day for bargain-hunters to take advantage of faster Internet connections at work but the survey found that most shoppers - 91.5 percent - now do so from home.

"As the number of Americans with high-speed Internet at home increases, fewer people feel the need to shop online from work," said Phil Rist, executive vice president of strategic initiatives at BIGresearch.

According to comScore, 10.57 billion dollars has been spent online during the first 27 days of the November, up three percent from corresponding period last year.

Online retail giant Amazon was the most visited retail property on Black Friday with 28 percent more unique visitors than a year ago, followed by Walmart, which saw growth of 22 percent, it said.

Apple was up 39 percent and Best Buy sites grew 24 percent.

"Much attention has focused on Amazon and Walmart this season, and both retailers performed particularly well online on Black Friday in terms of attracting visitors," comScore's Fulgoni said.

"We will be watching closely to see how these retailers perform during these next critical weeks of the season," he said.

Amazon said that even before Cyber Monday, November was the best month ever for sales of its popular electronic book reader, the Kindle.

In keeping with policy, Amazon did not release figures for Kindle sales but the company said the e-reader is the "number one bestselling product across all product categories on Amazon."

"It's flying off the shelves faster than any other product Amazon sells," said Ian Freed, vice president of Amazon Kindle.

Amazon shares gained 3.17 percent in New York on Monday and finished at a record close of 135.91 dollars.

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