The online retail sector is showing robust growth during one of the year's most crucial shopping periods, according to new reports. That not only bodes well for retailers' bottom lines during the holiday season, but also suggests the same tools that are changing the face of the Web-including smartphones and social-networking sites-are affecting customers' shopping habits.
The term "Cyber Monday" began in 2005 as a marketing buzzword engineered to suggest that consumers-after the hubbub of Thanksgiving and Black Friday-used the following Monday to click-and-purchase for their holiday gift list while at work. Indeed, online sales have traditionally risen on that date.
However, as indicated by some recent surveys, the increasing ubiquity of online shopping-and some of the deals that come with it-has led a substantial subset of shoppers to begin their Cyber Monday shopping even before they set the house on fire attempting to deep-fry that unthawed Thanksgiving turkey.
"Online retail leveraged its 24/7 sales opportunity by turning Thanksgiving into a shopping day and forcing brick-and-mortar stores to respond by opening their doors," Stephen Baker, the NPD Group's vice president of industry analysis, wrote in a Nov. 29 posting on the research firm's blog. "Cyber Monday became Cyber Weekend with sales promotions starting on Thanksgiving and running through the holiday weekend and beyond."
Despite the continued weakness of an economy still recovering from a global recession, online sales managed to peacefully co-exist with their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
"A preliminary read of the results clearly shows that online sales did not eat into brick-and-mortar sales but were actually incremental, or at least the traffic was incremental," Baker said. "According to NPD's Anatomy of Black Friday, while the share of shoppers for brick-and-mortar increased by about 6 percent, online shoppers' share grew by 44 percent."
According to analytics-based findings from IBM, Black Friday online sales enjoyed a year-over-year increase of 15.9 percent. Mobile devices became a more prominent shopping channel, used by 5.6 percent of customers to access a retailer's Website-an increase of 26.7 percent over Black Friday 2009.
"We're watching online retail, and increasingly social media and mobile, become the growth engines for retailers everywhere," John Squire, chief strategy officer for IBM Coremetrics, wrote in a Nov. 27 release posted on IBM's corporate Website. "Consumers embrace online shopping not only for its ease and convenience, but as a primary means of researching goods and services."
IBM's accompanying research note claims that, in addition to mobile, social-networking Websites such as Facebook and Twitter have come into play as sales channels: "While the percentage of [retail Website] visitors arriving from social network sites is fairly small relative to all online visitors-nearly 1 percent-it is gaining momentum, with Facebook dominating the space."
Other sources differed on estimates of shoppers' Cyber Monday smartphone use.
"While the majority of Cyber Monday shoppers will shop from their home computer (89.5 percent, or 96 million people), a growing number of people this year say they will shop via their smartphone on Cyber Monday," stated a Nov. 28 note from the National Retail Federation. "More than 7 million people (6.9 percent) will use a mobile device for Cyber Monday shopping, nearly double the estimated 4 million who shopped that way last year (3.8 percent)."
In any case, retailers hope all that pointing-and-clicking-or tapping-and-pinching-will help propel overall sales.