‘Cyber Monday’ Confounds Researchers, but Hey, Sales are Good

The holiday debate among marketers this year is whether Black Friday or Cyber Monday brought more consumers online, and the argument rages on a week after Thanksgiving. Both days saw increased traffic and sales online, according to several reports, and Hitwise even threw Thanksgiving Day into the mix with an observed spike in online market share.

Research firm comScore Networks pegged e-commerce spending on Cyber Monday at $608 million, a 26 percent hike over last year.

“It’s the highest spending day ever recorded online,” comScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni told ClickZ. “That said, we fully expect during the week of December 12 that the record will be eclipsed.”

By comparison, comScore found online retail spending on Black Friday reached $434 million, a 42 percent increase over last year’s sales. To date, total online retail excluding travel for the first 27 days in November comes to $9.48 billion, which accounts for a 24 percent increase over corresponding days in 2005.

Yet online still accounts for a relatively small chunk of holiday sales. “The online channel this season will represent about 7 percent of everything consumers spend,” said Fulgoni. “Offline is far bigger, but it’s not growing anywhere near the rate of the online channel.” He said comScore expects the holiday season to bring in $24 billion in online sales, a 24 percent increase from last year.

Since the online channel contributes to both online and offline conversions, pure traffic is another commonly cited indicator of holiday commercial vigor. It’s also the focal point in the debate over whether Black Friday or Cyber Monday is the bigger deal. Nielsen//NetRatings, which trumpeted “Black Friday Trumps Cyber Monday” in a recent data release, found that unique visitors surfing from home the day after Thanksgiving were 19.2 million, compared to at-work uniques of 16.1 million the following Monday. However when you look at combined home and work audience, Cyber Monday saw close to 30 million visitors, the most unique visitors to the Nielsen//NetRatings Holiday eShopping Index. Unique visitors on Black Friday totaled 27 million.

Black Friday prevails over Cyber Monday in the extent of its growth over last year, boasting 13 percent growth in unique visitors over last year, compared with Cyber Monday’s 7 percent. Incidentally, Thanksgiving Day showed 24 percent growth over 2005, and Sunday surfing to sites in the eShopping Index observed a 25 percent increase.

The blip on Thanksgiving Day was noticed by Hitwise. The Hitwise Retail 100 Index was up 13.3 percent this past Monday, but compared to Thanksgiving Day, Cyber Monday’s market share of traffic was down 33.87 percent; and Black Friday traffic was down 26.29 percent compared to the day before, when everyone was apparently surfing while not checking the turkey or watching football.

“What we think is happening on Thanksgiving Day is Internet users are going online to check out sales,” said Bill Tancer, GM of global research at Hitwise. “The key for Thanksgiving Day is researching offline sales, to find out what the loss-leader is in Wal-Mart or BestBuy.”

Tancer noted a shift in the top stores on the Retail 100 Index. While Amazon.com reigns in the top spot for most of the year, on Thanksgiving day it was replaced by bricks-and-mortar stores like Wal-Mart and Best Buy. By Cyber Monday, Amazon.com retakes its place as number one on the index.

On a more finite scale, Akamai tracked visitors per minute to an aggregated group of more than 270 global e-commerce sites it serves. In the U.S. it saw similar traffic levels on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. Each day measured about 1.8 million visitors per minute.

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