The last thing shoppers need is another name for their holiday binge; and yet here it is. First there was Black Friday. Then there was Cyber Monday. Now there’s Cyber Friday as the lines blur between online and traditional shopping in a weekend of frenzied consumption.
The post-Thanksgiving deals that kick off retail’s busiest season have been a staple of the holiday in the U.S. for years. Traditionally it’s gone like this: Brick-and-mortar stores open earlier and earlier on Friday offering cut-rate bargains for people willing to get up before the crack of dawn and wait in lines that snake around the block. Then on Monday, shoppers have a second chance at a steal when they head back into the office and the online retailers weigh in with offers for Web purchases.
But now smartphones with fast Internet connections put temptation at the fingertips. The high speeds that were once available mostly at people’s desks are now ubiquitous, closing the gap between the two shopping events. Online spending the day after Thanksgiving will grow 15 percent to hit $2.7 billion this year, while Monday’s outlays will increase 12 percent to $3 billion, according to Adobe Systems Inc.
"Cyber Monday is dead," said Steven Skinner, senior vice president of Cognizant Technology Solutions in Teaneck, New Jersey. "People are no longer waiting until they get back to work to shop. I have a better connection on my phone right now than I do at my desk at work."
More than three-in-four consumers have smartphones and 41 percent will use them to make online purchases this year, according to a holiday survey by Deloitte University Press that predicts the Friday after Thanksgiving will surpass Cyber Monday as the most popular online shopping day this year.
The shift shows that holiday spending is alive and well even as some consumers and retail employees grumble about consumerism overshadowing family time. Joining the mobs outside brick-and-mortar stores is totally taboo; time with your family -- and your favorite shopping app -- is in vogue.
Indeed, online buying is growing fastest on Thanksgiving as consumers embrace couch commerce -- browsing from the sofa via mobile phone while digesting the day’s meal. Internet purchases on Thanksgiving will grow 18 percent this year to hit $1.6 billion, according to Adobe.
Web stores Amazon.com Inc. and marketplace EBay Inc. are encouraging the behavior by offering deals earlier in the season. Brick-and-mortar rivals Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp., meanwhile, are trying to increase revenue from e-commerce. Everyone wants a piece of online shopping that is expected to total $95.5 billion in November and December, an 11 percent increase from a year earlier, according to Forrester Research.
The distinction between e-commerce and physical shops continues to fade away. Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in its hometown of Seattle this month and is offering same-day delivery in most big cities. At the same time, some retailers are letting shoppers buy products online and pick them up in stores to match the convenience of online shopping with a sense of immediacy.
Wal-Mart is among those trying to get a jump-start on Cyber Monday this year, offering deals on more than 2,000 items starting from 8 p.m. on Sunday. Amazon launched an eight-day promotion on Nov. 20 called "Black Friday Deals Week," telling customers to "Skip the lines and shop Black Friday deals from anywhere, even your couch."
EBay is promoting its marketplace as the online destination for "Small Business Saturday," the anti-big box movement meant to steer shoppers to local mom-and-pop retailers. EBay is seeing its strongest sales growth from Essex County, Vermont, and Fulton County, Ohio, the company said in a blog post highlighting the event.
Retailers now have more sophisticated tools to anticipate their customers’ needs and connect them with products in convenient ways, making them less reliant on big promotions on a particular day, said Dan Levine, managing partner of Tenfore Holdings in New York.
"The more stores can use data and analytics," he said, "the less important any one particular day is."