Technology

Move Over, 'Cyber Monday'


Online retailers, bracing for a record holiday season, say their busiest day will come in December's second week; eBay calls it "Green Monday"

Two years ago, a group of savvy marketers deemed the first workday after Thanksgiving the biggest online shopping day of the year. But e-tailers have long known that the digital dollars don't really start flowing until two weeks after so-called "Cyber Monday." Last year, Wednesday, Dec. 13 was the chart-topper with $667 million in sales, according to research firm comScore (SCOR). And online retailers expect this year will be no different. "The second week of December is our biggest week," says Scott Savitz, founder and CEO of IAC/InterActiveCorp's (IACI) Shoebuy.com, one of the leading Internet shoe sellers for the past eight years.

In fact, the second week of December is traditionally so big that the folks at e-commerce giant eBay (EBAY) have come up with their own moniker for the weekday that kicks it off: "Green Monday" (a reference to cash, rather than eco-friendly shopping). Company employees coined the term this month after realizing that, for the past three years, the strongest sales day for Shopping.com and other eBay sites was the second Monday of December. "It isn't Black Friday and it isn't Cyber Monday," says eBay spokesperson Wendy Sept. "Green Monday is the day that people actually go online and buy."

Grateful for Sales

Before mid-December, many turkey-stuffed Web surfers are still comparison shopping and researching contenders for holiday gift lists, says Sept. That doesn't mean Cyber Monday and the weekday preceding it—so-called "Black Friday"—aren't important. Thanksgiving family get-togethers remind many people of all the loved ones on their gift lists and spur shoppers to visit e-commerce sites in search of the perfect present, says Bridget Tate, merchandising and content manager for Microsoft's (MSFT) MSN Shopping.

As a result, Web retailers still look to the online activity around Thanksgiving for indications of the overall strength of the holiday shopping season. "Cyber Monday is a pivotal traffic day," says Tate. "On Monday I'm looking for ideas; I need to start making a holiday wish list for my family and friends."

Though most companies won't report their results from Cyber Monday until later in the week, many of the half-dozen online retailers and Web measurement firms interviewed for this article said they were seeing growth in the number of retail site visitors, compared to last year. "We are expecting Cyber Monday to come in with about $700 million in sales," says comScore senior analyst Andrew Lipsman. That would represent a 15% increase over the $608 million figure in 2006.

Indeed, consumers were shopping online in earnest at least as early as Black Friday. Visits to shopping sites increased 10% to 21 million on Nov. 23, compared with the same day a year earlier, according to Nielsen Online. ComScore reported 22% growth in spending across Web sites on Black Friday, with more than half a billion dollars spent.

Shift in Spending

If this year is anything like prior ones, buyers are just getting warmed up. Online sellers, by and large, are not seeing the effects of market turmoil that has led to a tightening of credit, caused some retailers to suffer, and even fueled talk of a looming recession. Many Web retailers are still seeing benefits from a shift in spending to Web sites from brick-and-mortar stores.

That helps explain the double-digit growth online compared with single-digit growth in overall holiday sales so far this year. "It's been a harder year for the footwear industry in general," says Shoebuy.com's Savitz. "But we are certainly not seeing any of that." He adds that his site has seen 5% growth each month and expects to bring in 16% to 17% of its total sales this holiday season. "People are getting more comfortable with the online experience and we are seeing very healthy buying in our category," Savitz says.

Promotional Effort

This year's Black Friday and Cyber Monday could be unusually strong, though, thanks to early holiday promotions. More than 72% of online retailers planned a Cyber Monday promotion (BusinessWeek.com, 11/26/07), according to a Shop.org survey. "Aggressive promotional activity by online retailers may create a spike in purchases," says Ken Cassar, Nielsen Online's vice-president of industry solutions analytics. In other words, though it traditionally ranked below the top 10 shopping days online, Cyber Monday could climb the ranks after all the hype.

Despite the early strength, online retailers are holding out for bigger sales in December. Amazon (AMZN) spokesperson Craig Berman says last year's big day was Dec. 11 and the peak this year will fall "sometime about five to seven days" before Dec. 17, the last day buyers can qualify for free shipping in most categories.

Join a debate about how retailers will fare this Christmas

Holahan is a writer for BusinessWeek.com in New York .

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