Cyber Monday: Myth and Reality

Forget all those big store lines seen the other day for Black Friday.

Many Americans will start their holiday shopping today when they sit down in front of their office computers. Welcome to Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday?

While not as famous as Black Friday, retailers just a few years ago invented Cyber Monday as a way to create buzz around online shopping.

The National Retail Federation's online division, Shop.org, coined the term in November 2005.

Some retailers had noticed an uptick in online sales, and the federation decided to brand it. Now, two years later, more and more stores are playing off the Cyber Monday theme and offering sales.

"It's a starting point. It's a kickoff point where many retailers have special deals and bargains," said Scott Krugman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation. "Retailers are having special Cyber Monday sales, and the way I see it, if retailers are attaching a sale and calling it Cyber Monday, it's true."

Shop.org said that 72 percent of online retailers are planning a special promotion for Cyber Monday this year, up from nearly 43 percent just two years ago.

But don't confuse the name with big purchases. Cyber Monday is by no means the busiest day for online sales, just as Black Friday is not the biggest day of sales for most stores.

"Black Friday is a great day for creating energy, buzz and excitement about the holiday season," Krugman said.

So, what is the busiest shopping day of the year?

The Saturday before Christmas.

"We're a nation of procrastinators," Krugman said. "No matter how good Black Friday is, it's going to be the week before and the week after Christmas that tells the tale for the industry. That's where the big bulk of the spending occurs."

The retail federation estimates that holiday sales this year will rise 4 percent to $474.5 billion. Only about 7 percent of that spending occurs online.

But Krugman said more and more shoppers are turning to the Web — even if they end up making their purchase in a physical store — to research products and to compare prices. And retailers are noticing and improving their sites to compete.

So, what is the busiest day of the year for online sales?

Following the theory that we are a nation of procrastinators, online shopping peaks on the last day to ship — with standard shipping — in time for Christmas, Krugman said. That is roughly Dec. 10 this year.

One group that tracks online sales is comScore Networks. Andrew Lipsman, a spokesman for the company, said that Cyber Monday is not the heaviest online shopping day of the year, but it does represent the first significant spike in online spending activity.

Last year, Cyber Monday saw $608 million in online retail spending, which was the heaviest online shopping day on record at the time, Lipsman said.

But that record didn't last long.

In the next month or so, there were 11 days that broke that record. The heaviest day of them all was Dec. 13, with $667 million in spending.

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