Record Online Sales Brighten U.S. Economic Outlook

News Analysis: Cyber Monday will be the largest ever, Black Friday broke all records and even more cyber-shopping is yet to come as consumers show they are in a bullish mood for holiday spending.

The news for the e-commerce economy couldn't be better. Online sales for Black Friday were 24 percent higher than ever. Cyber Monday sales should top $1.2 billion, also a new record, according to analyst firm ComScore.

But the news gets better. According to ComScore's Andrew Lipsman, Cyber Monday isn't even the best online shopping day of the holiday season, and probably won't be the best this year. Lipsman says that buying patterns have shown that there will be several days in December with bigger sales than Cyber Monday.

This is, obviously, wonderful news for online retailers. Business is up, in some cases substantially. Some reports have put traffic at Amazon at 50 percent higher than at this time last year, for example. According to a report in Billboard, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target and Apple all saw huge traffic increases.

If this increase in online sales were paired with flat or declining sales at physical stores, then it would indicate that the trend was simply to buy stuff online and avoid the crazed shoppers wielding pepper spray, 9mm handguns or worse. But that's not the case. Sales at physical stores also increased to record levels.

So what does this mean? At a minimum, it means that holiday shopping is off to a much bigger start than anyone predicted, and it shows that online sales have really taken off. But in reality, it means more than that. The extremely strong e-commerce activity, expected to strengthen even more as December comes along with its surge of holiday shopping, is demonstrating that the gloomy economic reports that have been hitting the headlines lately are simply that-gloomy.

The fact that they're gloomy doesn't mean they're right. Consumers, especially in the U.S., have gotten used to hearing bad economic news over the past four years: There's a recession. The recovery will be accompanied by week job growth; there'll be a double-dip recession; Europe is on the verge of a Eurozone financial collapse; and things are going to Hell, with or without a handbasket.

But the fact is that the real economy isn't controlled by headlines. As much as we in the journalism business would like to think about our value, we can't control the economy. So despite our continued cries of "recession," it isn't true if the consumers say it isn't. And that's what they're saying.

Instead, the very strong sales at the beginning of the holiday shopping season are telling us that the economy, especially the critically important consumer confidence level, is doing very well. Sales are up across the board. People are spending their money on things besides necessities, and they're spending freely.

E-commerce plays an important role in this surge of economic activity. First, there's very little friction when consumers buy online, which means there are fewer barriers to getting consumers to spend money. When shoppers go online, they generally know what they are looking for, know where to go to find it and are ready to click the buy button when they do.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...