Online shopping boom blurs the lines between Black Friday and Cyber Monday

More people are kicking back and shopping at home than ever before

As more people do their holiday shopping online, the traditional Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping days are losing their distinction.

Most any day after the Thanksgiving holiday is now a cyber shopping day.

"Every year, more people get more comfortable with buying things online," said Larry Chiagouris, a professor of marketing at Pace University. "This means it's not just Cyber Monday. It's Cyber Friday, Cyber Saturday and Cyber Sunday.... As retailers get smarter about how to take advantage of this trend, we'll just see it escalate."

Black Friday, which falls the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S., has been highlighted for years as the day to jump in the car and head to the nearest mall or store to do holiday shopping. It's generally thought of as a stressful day for buyers with crowded parking lots, frayed nerves and runs on short-term deals on toys and gadgets.

This year, though, the crowds seemed a bit thinner and the parking lots a little less packed as buyers turned to home computers or mobile devices on Thanksgiving night or the next day. That allowed them to still cash in on traditional Black Friday deals while shopping from the couch.

According to Adobe Digital Index, which analyzed 400 million visits to more than 2,000 U.S. retail websites last Thursday and Friday, Thanksgiving and Black Friday showed record online sales of $1.062 billion and $1.93 billion, respectively. Adobe also noted that online shopping peaked between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. ET on Black Friday, helping e-retailers generate more than $150 million in one hour, a new record.

In turn, that meant Cyber Monday -- the first Monday after Thanksgiving when many people shop online at the office while the boss's back is turned -- wasn't as intense. Given that shoppers had already been buying online over the long weekend -- the National Retail Federation surveyed 4,464 consumers and found that 42.1% of them shopped online at some point on Saturday or Sunday -- there wasn't as much pressure to jump online at work on Monday.

The Federation reported that more than 131 million shoppers planned to go online for Cyber Monday, up from the 129 million who did so last year. (Those numbers dovetail with Shop.org's eHoliday survey, which also indicated that 131 million shoppers would be buying online on Monday.)

That's nearly as many as the 141 million Americans who shopped in-store and online during the entire Thanksgiving weekend.

Although the distinction between Black Friday and Cyber Monday may be blurring, online shopping will be a huge part of holiday commerce throughout the entire season. Forrester Research predicts $78.7 billion in U.S. online sales for the holiday season, a 15% increase over last year.

The same industry analysts also noted that 167 million shoppers will go on the Web to do their holiday shopping this year, spending an average of $472 during the holiday season.

What's unclear is how all of this online shopping will affect employers, who in years past saw a productivity hit as workers focused more on buying sweaters and snow shoes than on spread sheets and year-end reports.

Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst with Forrester, said she doubts companies will have found much relief on Cyber Monday this year. "We're not seeing less shopping from work, but we're just seeing more shopping everywhere else," she said. "I think Internet usage from work that is non-work related is as high as ever."

Chiagouris, however, disagreed.

"Companies aren't losing as much productivity," he said. "Companies are, in fact, getting back productivity they lost because people aren't shopping from their desk as much as before because they were already electronically shopping on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It's less problematic on Monday."

Mobile plays into that, as well.

According to the National Retail Federation, when asked how they plan to shop on Cyber Monday, 24.8 million, or 18.9%, said they would use their mobile device. That's a 22% increase from the 20.4 million who used their smartphones or tablets to shop last year -- and an even bigger change from 2009, when only 3.7 million used mobile devices to shop.

And it means that while more people were shopping online yesterday, they could easily have been buying presents from the café while getting their morning coffee or from the train as they commuted to work.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at  @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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