Several weeks back we told you about the imminent downfall of Black Friday, the longtime monarch of holiday shopping. In a feudal turn, younger sibling Cyber Monday is now heir apparent to the throne.
Cyber Monday, this year on Nov. 29, has been eyeing the retail crown for several years. In 2009, it was the second most profitable day of the nearly two-month holiday shopping season, pulling in over $887 million of the season's total $24.7 billion in just 24 hours. It outpaced Black Friday by nearly $300 million, thanks to comforts afforded only in cyberspace, including free home delivery deals, easy comparison shopping, downloadable coupons and the requisite drool-inducing sales. In fact, nearly 85 percent of merchants are expected to offer online-only deals this year, catering exclusively to shoppers who cite 24-hour convenience as the number one reason to shop online.
Last year also saw the largest Cyber Monday haul in history, with sales increasing by $53 million, compared to 2008. Most holiday shopping surveys predict further growth this year. Numbers vary -- they usually do around the yuletide season -- but Forrester Research estimates total sales will go up 16 percent. Although individual shoppers plan to budget slightly less for gifts this year as opposed to last, people are spending more holiday dollars online than ever before.
For consumers, Cyber Monday is a welcome relief from post-Thanksgiving mobs. Especially in recent years, the deep discounts typical of Black Friday have been relatively lackluster, leading many to either spend less or forgo the day altogether. Cyber Monday specials quickly filled the gap left by these disappointing brick-and-mortar offers, and numbers from Accenture's 2010 holiday shopping study reflect it: This year, a whopping 69 percent of shoppers plan to buy a portion of their holiday gift list online, up 5 percent from 2009.
Even typical downfalls of online holiday shopping barely register for increasingly tech-savvy consumers. According to a report by the National Retail Foundation and Shop.org, one of the most obvious complaints about the process -- no way to try on clothes or handle a toy in cyberspace -- is only a problem for 14 percent of shoppers who plan to spend less online than last year.
Cyber Monday Deals
How will Cyber Monday prove itself as a bona fide retail monarch this season? Merchants large and small have a bag of tricks to entice shoppers, from much-wanted free-shipping deals to coupons and social media-driven incentives.
In general, online-only stores will have the most lucrative Cyber Monday deals. Much like Black Friday, they keep these offers tightly under wraps until just days before the event, but expect virtual heavyweights like Overstock, Zappos and 6pm to have generous free-shipping offers and hourly deals. Optimistic sales predictions are enough to get niche retailers in on the act as well. Both Forrester and NRF show merchants of every size are expecting a return to holiday form, up from a dismal three-percent decline in 2008 and relatively stagnant 2009.
Perhaps the best way to plan ahead for Cyber Monday is to sign up for e-mail and social media alerts from your most coveted stores. Many will announce deals long before they are publicly posted and, in some cases, certain promos are only available to in-the-know folks. Example: On Nov. 14, Amazon kicked off a "Prelude to Black Friday" sale on video games for all Amazon Student members. For two weeks, each day brings a new set of deals on the most popular diversions, including numerous game and console bundle specials.
In the free-shipping arena, Walmart and Amazon are duking it out for holiday supremacy. On Nov. 11, Walmart announced an enormous free-shipping promotion, good on nearly 60,000 items until Dec. 20, which includes orders of any size made on Cyber Monday. Amazon does much the same thing year-round through its "Super Saver Shipping" program, but the Internet giant formally matched Walmart's offer just two days after it was unveiled. Among other things, both stores promise free shipping on all electronics.
There are numerous Cyber Monday deal-tracking sites, but be wary. Follow the same online saftey guidelines you would throughout the year and buy only from recognizable stores. Also be sure to get any promo or coupon codes from a reputable site. After all, there's no need for sketchy discount warehouses when the legit retailers are holding sales. Simply take some downtime on Sunday to sift through e-mails, sites and other deals. The new king will take care of the rest.