Heading into what could be third straight year of record-setting sales — and fever-pitched hyperbole — Cyber Monday is still fighting off the fake-holiday accusations. But has it become the Valentine's Day of Christmas, another "day" made up to benefit retailers, or does it deserve all its coinage, and could it even reshape big-box buying as we know it? The critics have lined up — "'Cyber Monday' is a joke," argues Wired's Mat Honan — but we think this shopping-spree evolution might just stick.
The term "Cyber Monday" was coined back in 2005 by Shop.org to extend Black Friday even further, getting more people to buy more things on more days. Back then, Cyber Monday wasn't real. People didn't spend the most-ever online that day. But, now it is. Cyber Monday 2010 lived up to its prophecy bringing in the most online sales that year, according to ComScore, which has tracked these figures since 2001. And then in 2011 it kept its crown, with Internet sales totaling over $1 billion. (The people who soothsay about these things expect Cyber Monday 2012 to solidify this tradition with the triple threat.) Like Valentine's Day, the marketing-friendly name stuck until it made itself more or less true. So, Cyber Monday does exist. And now, apparently, it's up to consumers to take it back.
Beyond the entire basis of the day's history stemming from a total lie, there are other perfectly good reasons to call for the end of Cyber Monday. There is nothing much "cyber" about it, argues Honan. "It's just a sale that starts earlier and ends later every year. A sale that spreads to more and more places, online and off. Big boxes, local merchants, etailers; you name it. Everyone has a holiday sale," he writes. It's true, some standard retailers only offer online sales on Black Friday. And some big-box stores have the same sales in-store as they do online. But there is one something that is cyber about it: in cyber land the e-tailers still lead, with Amazon getting the most online shopping traffic on the Internet, according to Deepfield numbers via GigaOm.
Despite those top-heavy statistics, there's room at the bottom of a chart like that for traditional retailers to make a dent in the Internet shopping world. And there is already some evidence that companies like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and Foot Locker may be doing just that. And that's because cyber shopping is still real-life shopping. Walmart in particular understands that, and is making an effort to get people buying online, as Fast Company's Farhad Manjoo explains. In addition to its same-day shipping experiment that competes with Amazon — and with the help of Kosmix, its social-media acquisition — Walmart has revamped its website, created a gift-recommendation app, and offered online contests for shoppers.
In addition to its Cyberness falling apart, Cyber Monday's Mondayness doesn't quite work, either. We now have "cyber week," which extends a good portion of the post-Black Friday online sales through a kind of second Black Friday. People still go to work and still need to do holiday shopping, so why not? But, when you think about it, all these Days still add up to the same holiday-shopping season, from Thanksgiving on down, as the deals keep piling up and the prices get driven down, all the way past Christmas: Cyber Week is Cyber Monday is Black Friday is Small Business Saturday is Boxing Day. These are just marketing terms, as Honan puts it: "The sales are happening anyway. The term of art is just a way to get you to pay attention to it."
We fall for it, of course. Or at least have fallen for it the last two years in a row. Perhaps it's because people want to get their holiday shopping done early and from the convenience of their computer. The marketing works, and in America that's enough to sustain a bona-fide holiday. With that: Cyber Monday lives.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.