November 27, 2011, 2:22 PM

Strong weekend sales point to a hot Monday

E-retailers saw sales leap and site traffic grow over the holiday weekend.

Lead Photo

If the sales patterns of the holiday weekend hold, e-retailers can expect Monday sales to leave them smiling. Consumers spent an average of $150.53 online this weekend, about 37.8% of their average total weekend spending of $398.62, according to a survey conducted with more than 3,800 consumers for the National Retail Federation.

That spending, combined with other data emerging about how consumers this holiday weekend flocked to the web to help them shop, shows that e-retailers have good reason to be optimistic about their sales potential tomorrow, also known as Cyber Monday. The NRF estimates 42.2 million consumers shopped online this weekend. It projects that 122.9 million will shop online tomorrow, up 15.0% from 106.9 million that did so a year ago.

Sales the Monday following Thanksgiving last year reached $1.028 billion, according to comScore Inc., a research firm that tracks online retail sales. Based on sales data from November of this year, comScore analyst Andrew Lipsman says he expects e-retailers will break that record this year, and projects sales will reach $1.2 billion tomorrow as consumers head to the web in search of money-saving deals.

ComScore estimates e-retailers sold $816 million worth of merchandise on Friday, 26% more than on Black Friday 2010.  On Thanksgiving Day, online sales totaled $479 million, up 18% over the holiday last year.

For the first 25 days of the November-December holiday season, comScore says consumers have purchased $12.7 billion on the web, a 15% increase over last year.

Heavy promotions by retail chains this weekend may have benefited online retail as much as physical stores, says comScore chairman, Gian Fulgoni.

“Despite some analysts’ predictions that the flurry of brick-and-mortar retailers opening their doors early for Black Friday would pull dollars from online retail, we still saw a banner day for e-commerce with more than $800 million in spending,” Fulgoni says. “With brick-and-mortar retail also reporting strong gains on Black Friday, it’s clear that the heavy promotional activity had a positive impact on both channels."

Speaking of prospects for Monday, Fulgoni says, “Last year, Cyber Monday was the heaviest day of online spending ever, with sales exceeding $1 Billion, and we fully expect to see another record set this year.”

John Squire, chief strategy officer at IBM SmarterCommerce, says online sales on Cyber Monday are likely to be at least 20% higher than last year based on e-retailer’s strong holiday weekend performance. Sales for 500 U.S. e-retailers tracked in the IBM Benchmark survey were up nearly 40% year-over-year on Thanksgiving Day and up more than 24% the day after Thanksgiving, commonly known as Black Friday and the traditional start to holiday season shopping.

“If the trends continue, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t, Cyber Monday will be the biggest day for online retail this season and will have double-digit growth numbers that retailers will be very excited about.” IBM SmarterCommerce is an IBM unit devoted to digital technology and services that includes several recent IBM acquisitions, including analytics firm Coremetrics, where Squire worked, as well as Unica and Sterling Commerce.

Google Inc. says consumer searches for terms related to Cyber Monday more than doubled last week versus the comparable week a year ago, and also doubled compared to just a week earlier. The search engine reports that search terms including “Cyber Monday sales” and “Cyber Monday coupons” were up more than 100%.

But while interest in Cyber Monday offers is already higher than last year, sales and traffic data shows that consumers certainly didn’t hold themselves back from shopping online over the holiday weekend, and that e-retailers aren't waiting until Monday to offer deals. Experian Hitwise says traffic to the top 500 retail sites it tracks was up 9% from last year on Thanksgiving Day and up 2% on Friday., No. 6 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide, was the most-trafficked retail site on Thanksgiving and (No. 1) was the most-trafficked e-retail site on Friday. The most popular times to shop online were after 8 p.m. Central on Thanksgiving Day and between 10 a.m. and noon on Black Friday , according to comparison shopping engine’s own site traffic.

E-retailers used e-mail to communicate their best deals to consumers over the holiday weekend and are expected to continue doing so to encourage sales tomorrow. 74% of retailers sent at least one e-mail to their subscribers on Thanksgiving Day this year versus the 60% that did so a year ago, according to data from e-mail marketing software vendor Responsys Inc. It expects 80% of e-retailers will send at least one promotional message to subscribers tomorrow, up from 77% last year. “With the economy shaky, retail competition intensifying and mobile playing a larger role in holiday shopping, this year we expect as much as 80% of retailers to send at least one email to their subscribers on Cyber Monday,” says Chad White, research director at Responsys. “Free shipping and steep discounts will be the norm. And, just like Black Friday is bleeding over into Thanksgiving Day, Cyber Monday activity will increasingly leak into 'Cyber Sunday' and be extended into 'Cyber Tuesday.’”

Indeed, some e-retailers aren’t waiting until tomorrow to start their Cyber Monday sales. The apparel e-retail sites operated by Gap Inc. Direct, No. 24 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide, sent e-mail messages to subscribers early this morning encouraging them to shop its “Cyber Sunday & Monday” sale with the plea: “Why wait for tomorrow? Start shopping now.”, part of No. 17-ranked Macy’s Inc., also kicked off its Cyber Monday sale today with the message: “It’s here. 1 day early!” Part of its sales offer included lowering the minimum order amount to qualify for free shipping from $99 to $75. Lingerie retailer, a division of Limited Brands whose e-retail holdings include No. 18-ranked Victoria’s Secret Direct and No. 401-ranked apparel retailer The Limited, says it’ll start its Cyber Monday sale tonight at 6 p.m.

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