Just when you thought you'd escaped the clutches of holiday shopping madness by staying home on Black Friday, you open up your E-mail inbox to find a barrage of Cyber Monday promotions piling up.
Retailers from Banana Republic to Amazon to Target sent out E-mail blasts Monday hoping to lure consumers to spend more money online this holiday season, offering deep discounts, free shipping, and free returns.
Amazon.com launched its Cyber Monday deals at 12:01 a.m. Monday offering as much as 60 percent off a Panasonic VIERA 55-inch TV that's usually priced at upwards of $1,000. Sears is slashing prices for Maytag washers and dryers, each on sale for $399. Big-box store Walmart sent out three separate e-mails announcing deals for its so-called "super-colossal Cyber Monday" sale.
"I would say deluge for cyber Monday and Thanksgiving weekend is an understatement," Randy Allen, associate dean at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, said in an E-mail. "There are multiple E-mails coming out daily from the same retailer with the latest deal. The focus is if one E-mail did not get the buyers' attention, try another offer."
Allen cautions stores not to get too deal crazy.
"It is a tidal wave of E-mail and may backfire with the consumer if the retailers are not careful," she adds.
But as the saying goes: one person's inbox-clogging spam is another person's money-saving treasure. Thanks in large part to the stellar deals retailers offer, Cyber Monday is expected to be the biggest online shopping day of the year for the third year in a row, with retailers projected to rake in a whopping $1.5 billion on Monday alone. Last year's holiday online retail sales amounted to a little more than $67 billion, and this year's holiday online retail sales are projected to be 17 percent higher—in the $79 billion ballpark.
"This is no longer chump-change by any means," Chris Christopher, an economist at financial forecasting firm IHS Global Insight, wrote in an E-mail. "And, the bricks are looking to cash in on the clicks."
Online retail sales are already outpacing other sales outlets, according to Christopher, and traditional brick-and-mortar stores have stepped up their game online in order to boost revenue, even opening up stores on Thanksgiving this year to try to compete with the 24/7 availability of online portals.
"Retailers really want to get all of that money early because it isn't like there's going to be more," Sheri Petras, CEO of consumer insight firm CFI Group. "If they don't get it now, they probably won't get it, and that's why we've seen this increase so early in the year," Petras adds, referring to the deluge of early Black Friday ads and promotions.
What retailers' balance sheets show come January will offer some perspective into the evolving holiday shopping season, a period when stores make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue, according to the National Retail Federation. With the increasing adoption of smartphones and other handheld devices such as iPads, people are relying less and less on their work computers to shop online than they did seven years ago when the term Cyber Monday was coined by Shop.org, a division of the NRF.
"[Cyber Monday] started when people didn't have broadband at home (or on their phones, for that matter)," Michael O'Hara, CEO of e-commerce firm Yumani, wrote in an E-mail. "They went to work and used the bandwidth there, which made this a big day. Today, Cyber Monday is merely an excuse to launch online shopping.
Now because consumers can shop anytime anywhere, the entire weekend between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday has seen a major jump in online sales activity. Sales on Thanksgiving Day, typically not a popular day for online shopping, spiked more than 30 percent over last year to $633 million, according to digital business analytics firm comScore. Black Friday, too, saw a jump with online sales eclipsing the $1 billion mark for the first time ever.
But with the growing popularity of online retail portals, retailers opening brick-and-mortar stores on Thanksgiving, and a deluge of Cyber Monday deals, the importance of holiday shopping "events" is becoming diluted, experts say. Even if Monday is the reigning victor three years running when it comes to online retail sales, it could be only a matter of time until another day usurps that title.
"Cyber Monday is not really a real event anymore," O'Hara says. "There are good deals for sure, but it is not a one day event, by any stretch of the imagination. This year, there are more deals across the net for Cyber Monday, but there also were for Black Friday, which has institutionally become a month-long event."
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Meg Handley is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clarified 11/26/12: A previous version of this article used a shortened title for Randy Allen.