December 1, 2010, 3:04 PM

Cyber Monday Records: Soon to be a ghost of Christmas past

The annual sales records for Cyber just keep on coming, but only for a few more years.

Every year—and this one is no exception—the online retailing industry sets another sales record for the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday.

This past Monday, which is lamely referred to as Cyber Monday (any images from Star Trek and the Borg come to mind here?), online sales hit a new one-day high of $1.03 billion, says comScore Inc. Clearly, web shoppers have been trained to respond to Monday after Thanksgiving sales as retailer after retailer—including Drugstore.com Inc., No. 46 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, ShopNBC.com (No. 89), Buy.com Inc. (No. 32) and others report record results.

But, to my thinking, retailers may as well enjoy their Monday after Thanksgiving sales records now because sooner rather than later these results will, to borrow from Charles Dickens, become the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Cyber Monday was a neat marketing gimmick cooked up by Shop.org in 2005 to drive web sales when people returned to work after their Thanksgiving holiday. And to Shop.org’s credit, retailers—and online shoppers—bought into the concept. Every year—at least so far—web retailers keep churning out the sales. At $1.03 billion, sales last Monday were 15.9% higher than the $887 million in sales web retailers generated on Cyber Monday in 2009.

But the days of record Monday after Thanksgiving sales will soon peak in the coming years and then recede. Why? Every year the online holiday shopping season begins in earnest earlier than the previous year—some retailers such as Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1) and J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (No. 16) began announcing their Friday after Thanksgiving web deals nearly a week ahead of time.

Also, shopping online from work on the Monday after Thanksgiving made more sense five years ago when shoppers returning to the grindstone could use their employers’ broadband Internet connections to make a faster purchase rather than wait for the blinking—and slower—dial-up modem at home.

Today an estimated 61% of households in the U.S. have an Internet broadband connection, says Pew Internet Reearch. With more broadband connectivity at home—and more people working at home—Cyber Monday won’t be as meaningful in a few years.

With the rise of even more mobile commerce, shoppers can go online and buy the holiday gifts they want and where or when they want without being tethered to an office T1 line. And retailers of all sizes are launching free shipping and other Christmas shopping incentives even before we’ve blown the candles out in our Halloween pumpkins.

Online holiday shopping is coming earlier and earlier and retailers are making the last two weeks of November and the first three weeks in December in the run-up to the final Christmas gift shipping deadlines into one long blur.

Lots of web retailers enjoyed record Cyber Monday sales—specialty retailer FansEdge.com said its Monday after Thanksgiving sales were up 78.5% to $2.5 million this year from $1.4 million last year.

But the smart retailers aren’t putting all of their eggs in one Cyber Monday basket. Instead they are looking at how to balance resources for free shipping over a longer holiday shopping season and target the best windows of opportunity.

My prediction is that Black Friday and Cyber Monday will continue to be a part of the online holiday shopping landscape going forward, but will eventually become less important. There will be plenty of web sales, but every year won’t be a record.

With holiday shopping coming earlier every year, and consumers having even greater opportunities to shop online, why wait until Thanksgiving? Pretty soon we will all be using our smartphones to order Christmas presents while watching July 4 fireworks and eating barbecue.

 

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