Target and Toys R Us posted overall sales declines during the holidays.
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Once the sales came, consumers pounced-even if it was on Thanksgiving itself. In fact, many online retailers began offering their Friday-after-Thanksgiving, or Black Friday, sales online by Wednesday evening, and sales on Thanksgiving jumped 10% over 2008. Traffic to e-retail sites on Thanksgiving peaked at 4.1 million visitors per minute at 10 p.m. Eastern time, 42% higher than peak traffic a year earlier, says Akamai Technologies, whose global server network speeds traffic to web sites.
Consumers were also deal-hunting early the following Monday, often called Cyber Monday because it’s a big online shopping day. CyberMonday.com, a site sponsored by e-retail trade group Shop.org to feature web promotions, registered peak traffic between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Traffic to that site remained strong well into the evening-it was up 19% over the previous year after 5 p.m. Eastern, reports Mall Networks, which operates the site.
That illustrates a shift from the early days of e-commerce. With 89% of Internet households now accessing the web via broadband connections, according to comScore, online consumers now can just as nimbly bargain hunt from home as from the office.
Another timing shift showed up last fall when consumers failed to find the dramatic savings they had enjoyed in 2008. Some retailers offered their Cyber Monday deals the following week-and found consumers who didn’t bite the first time clicking the Buy button the second time around. For instance, ChooseDirect, which sells through four e-commerce sites, registered a 200% increase in sales on its hot tub site the Monday after Cyber Monday and 500% on its fireplace site.
“People were biding their time and waiting to see if there would be a better deal,” says Diana Slampyak, director of community research at ChooseDirect. “I guess they figured they missed out on it Cyber Monday, came back and saw we had the same sale going and just jumped on it.”
Yet another sign of deal-seeking behavior was the 27% overall increase in total consumer goods coupons redeemed last year, the first increase in 17 years, according to coupon processor Inmar. While most coupons are still clipped from newspaper circulars, the web played a bigger role than ever in 2009, with a 92% increase in coupons accessed online and a 360% increase in web-based redemptions, Inmar says.
Will consumers go back to their free-spending ways once the recession is over? While consumers are not always good judges of their own future behavior, at least for now they say no. Two-thirds of online shoppers said in December that the recession had fundamentally changed the way they think about spending and saving, according to the Performics data.
Anderson of Macys.com is inclined to think consumers will to some extent revert to spending more once the economy picks up. “But things never return to exactly the way they were before,” he says. “Consumers will continue to be very value-conscious for the foreseeable future. You have to adjust your business model accordingly.”
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