The Curious Success of Cyber Monday

"It may be the nation's biggest quasi-sanctioned misuse of company resources"

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What began as a dubious marketing gimmick in 1995 has become a holiday shopping bonanza. Today, Cyber Monday, more than 106 million Americans are expected to cruise the Web for gifts—10 million more than last year. The consumer phenomenon began five years ago when the silver-tongued National Retail Trade Association issued a simple press release from its website

While traditional retailers will be monitoring store traffic and sales on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), online retailers have set their sights on something different: Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, which is quickly becoming one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.

Pundits marvel at Cyber Monday's unlikely success:

  • The Holiday Is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, writes Eric Griffith at PC Magazine:
Cyber Monday... does what wanted it to do in the first place: "create some consumer excitement" in the words of executive director Scott Silverman, quoted in the 2005 press release the coined the term. Every year, more Cyber Monday sales happen online, and that will help make it bigger... Cyber Monday sales increased by over $100 million every year from 2005 to 2008, and still jumped $41 million from 2008 to 2009. That's nothing to sneeze at.
  • There Actually Aren't That Great of Deals, notes John Sutter at CNN

Unlike Black Friday, which has a concentration of deals in brick-and-mortar stores, online sales tend not to fall on a certain day, said Mike Gikas, an editor for electronics and technology at Consumer Reports, the nonprofit group. The best deals on TVs, for instance, likely won't come until mid-December, he said.

Dan de Grandpre, editor-in-chief at DealNews, said products listed on sale on the Monday after Thanksgiving tend to be "the dregs" that didn't sell on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Some high-end retailers do hold Cyber Monday sales, he said, but some already started on Friday or Sunday and others won't begin until the second or third week in December.

  • It Looks Like It's Going to Be a Record Year, writes Teresa Rivas at Barron's:

Initial reports indicate that, much like this year’s Black Friday, Cyber Monday is going strong. Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor, says that as of 7 a.m. this morning, his software firm, which helps more than 3,000 retailers sell their goods online, was tracking a 48% gain in same store sales from last year, a number that has since jumped to 53%. He is predicting high 40% growth year-over-year.

  • It's Only Begun to Be a Big Online Shopping Holiday, writes Eric Griffith at PC Magazine: "Not even when it was created in 2005 as a marketing ploy by the U.S. National Retail Federation to use on its portal was Cyber Monday that big a day for online shopping. At the time, it was the 12th biggest online shopping day, according to comScore. Here's the actually biggest online shopping days of the last five years":
-2005: Monday Dec. 12 at $556 million (vs. $486 million on Cyber Monday)
-2006: Wednesday, Dec. 13 at $666.9m (vs. $608m on Cyber Monday)
-2007: Monday, Dec. 10 at $881m (vs. $733m on Cyber Monday)
-2008: Tuesday, Dec. 9 at $881m (vs. $846m on Cyber Monday)
-2009: Tuesday, Dec. 15 at $913m (vs. $887m on Cyber Monday)
The Cyber Monday shopper, of course, is already in front of a screen — laptops are the most day's most popular item precisely because the day is targeted toward people who use them. Its lure is not so much the dad who would wrestle over the last Elmo on the rack as the slightly more affluent, trigger-happy one who knows how to shop for apps and the toy of the year, for the kid and himself.
  • People Like Shopping In Secret "Even though much of the Cyber Monday shopping is shifting to early mornings and late nights, there's something to be said for being able to shop online for holiday gifts without worrying about curious children or spouses looking over your shoulder," Phil Rist a VP at BIGresearch. "Many businesses understand that Americans' work and personal lives are merging, and would rather have employees shopping online at work than driving all over town during their lunch hour looking for the perfect gift."

Perhaps the most interesting thing to be learned from Cyber Monday is that Mondays -- after Thanksgiving or not -- are usually big days for e-commerce.

That's because people like to shop at work, said Lipsman of comScore.

People used to think that Cyber Monday was big because workers were using high-speed office internet connections to do their online shopping, he said. Now that two-thirds of Americans have broadband connections at home, according to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, that theory has been pretty much debunked.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.