Strong Cyber Monday Sales May Be Bigger Than Black Friday

Anyone who thought more Americans were taking advantage of Black Friday deals because they would shop less online during Cyber Monday was mistaken. In fact, internet sales yesterday may have been way up, according to early estimates. The reason for this isn't likely consumer demand alone, but Cyber Monday's strength could foreshadow an aggressive season of holiday shopping.

So how much were sales up? The final numbers are still being tabulated, but Verne Kopytoff and Liz Robbins from the New York Times report on one preliminary measure:

By 6 p.m. on Monday, Eastern time, sales were 20 percent higher than during the same time period on the Monday after Thanksgiving a year ago, according to Coremetrics, a research firm owned by I.B.M. that tracks online sales.

Not only is that an incredible increase, but it would far surpass expectations, some of which actually predicted a decline:

Shop.org, the online arm of the National Retail Federation, a trade group, said that the percentage of people shopping online from work on Monday was expected to drop more than one percentage point from last year, to 12.1 percent.

The gut explanation here is simply that shoppers are much more willing this year to spend than they were last year. But there's an added dimension when it comes to online sales: newfound comfort with Internet-driven commerce. Each year more and more Americans become more willing to shop through websites instead of in stores. So some component of this year's increase isn't added consumer demand but first-time Cyber Monday shoppers.

Of course, yesterday we learned that Black Friday also had a pretty great showing, probably up somewhere between 6% and 8% from 2009. So Black Friday doesn't appear to have suffered much due to more Cyber Monday shopping. Taken together, the impressive performances in stores and online show consumers broadly spent a lot more this year than last year in the several days following Thanksgiving.

It remains unclear whether subsequent holiday sales will continue at the same pace set from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, however. While there is an argument that people might just be looking for big bargains and will curb there shopping after the early deals expire, Cyber Monday's success casts some doubt on that theory. Although there were pretty good deals online too, there are always pretty good deals online. An impressive Cyber Monday performance may be even more indicative of strong holiday spending to come in the weeks that follow.

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Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.

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