Just another manic Cyber Monday

There is some debate as to whether “Cyber Monday,” the so-called busiest online shopping day of the year, is a real event but retailers agree that the holiday shopping period is expanding, both online and off.

Cyber Monday falls on Nov. 27 this year – the first Monday after “Black Friday,” which is the day after U.S. Thanksgiving and traditionally the busiest brick and mortar shopping day.

Some critics dismiss Cyber Monday as a marketing invention to increase online sales, but the end of November is usually when shoppers start to consider Internet shopping as an option, said Jim Okamura, a retail analyst in the Chicago office of the J.C. Williams Group.

“It is somewhat of a made-up day . . . but it is real as well. We definitely see the kick-off of the holiday season (in the U.S.) this weekend, spilling over to the Web channel as well,” he said.

Canadians don’t observe American Thanksgiving, so it stands to reason that Cyber Monday “is just another Monday in Canada,” said Okamura. “But from here on out, the stakes start really increasing. You see the retailers use their Web channel so much more actively to promote sales, to promote key items, to drive traffic into the stores.”

Rhonda Katz, a Toronto-based family therapist and consultant, suggests that more and more people are turning to online shopping as a means to escape the hurly-burly of holiday crowds.

“You don’t get claustrophobic, you don’t have to fight the crowds, the lines, the incessant music and the parking,” she said.

Alexandra Brown, a spokesperson for eBay Canada, said that Cyber Monday is “very real” but the online auction site starts to see an increase in traffic even earlier in the season.

Nov. 1 is when eBay starts it’s holiday promotional campaigns. “Right after Halloween is over, the whole site becomes ‘holiday,’” she said.

“I know about Cyber Monday because e-commerce is our business,” added Brown. “It may become a term that gets into people’s vocabulary and they may take that as (a warning) to really start thinking about this seriously. Perhaps it’s just the early birds that are shopping before Nov. 27, but people will think, ‘Well, now I’d better get going.’”

Best Buy Canada‘s online marketing manager, Jeff Veldhuizen, dismissed Cyber Monday as largely an American phenomenon, but acknowledged that his site’s traffic starts to increase in November. Best Buy relaunched its Canadian Web site on Tuesday, simplifying the checkout process for consumers. Online traffic tends to spike about two weeks before Christmas and slows down after Dec. 17, he said, since that’s the last day that Best Buy will guarantee a shipment will arrive before Christmas.

But there’s a significant jump after the 25th., said Veldhuizen, as people look to spend money they received as gifts or take advantage of Best Buy’s online Boxing Day sales. “Our highest sales volume will happen during Boxing week,” he said. “Boxing Day and Boxing week are huge online for us.”

Most retailers are experiencing longer and later Christmas shopping periods, said Okamura, particularly as their supply chain operations have improved over time to allow for guaranteed ship dates.

“Consumers have more confidence that if I place an order, say, 10 days prior to Christmas, I’ll still get it in time. In the early days (of e-commerce), that was still a bit of a crapshoot,” he said.

On the other hand, some people still treat shopping as a tactile experience and hesitate to buy things they can’t touch and see first. They may be overwhelmed by the shopping choices available to them online. “Sometimes what will happen is that we have so many choices we hesitate,” said Katz.

“But I think, as we tell kids who are answering multiple choice questions, go with your instinct. And go with your budget.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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