Cyber Monday shoppers find 'smooth sailing' online

Analysts see 42% jump in online spending compared with last year

Although some major retail Web sites reported performance hiccups on Friday, online shoppers apparently ran into few problems yesterday.

That was the finding of Keynote Competitive Research, part of Keynote Systems Inc., a measurement and testing services provider based in San Mateo, Calif. Keynote Research measured the performance of more than 30 leading retail sites for its online shopping report.

The Friday after Thanksgiving -- dubbed "Black Friday" -- is generally viewed as one of the busiest shopping days of the year. That was reflected in performance slowdowns at and other retailers' Web sites. Cyber Monday -- the first Monday after Thanksgiving -- also sees heavy Web traffic as shoppers return to work and take advantage of the faster connections they have in their offices to browse or shop online.

According to Keynote, online shoppers generally experienced no performance issues that day. "In terms of what we are seeing on Cyber Monday, almost all of the major online retailers are performing very well," said Ben Rushlo, an analyst at Keynote Competitive Research. "There have been no major issues, outages or slowdowns ... which is in stark contrast to what we saw on Black Friday."

On Friday, according to Keynote, several retailers saw serious online outages -- especially Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s Web site, which experienced more than 10 hours of downtime. first saw significant slowdowns starting at 4:30 a.m. EST and eventually became unavailable to most online users. The site didn't resume normal operations until 2:30 p.m. also experienced online slowdowns that lasted from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST, Keynote said.

"For most online retailers, it has been smooth sailing. But for those few with problems, they were among the most significant performance issues we have seen this year," said Rushlo. "Although many consumers may not have directly experienced outages or slowdowns, retailers need to be vigilant because online shoppers are savvier than ever and any negative experience on a site can directly impact their likelihood to purchase."

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Jami Arms said in e-mailed comments that the company is trying its best to meet customer needs. "It's too early to discern trends, as the holiday [shopping season] is just under way, but we're working hard to be as good as we can be for customers. In the meantime, we remain determined to stay out in front on price." Inc., based in San Francisco, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to comScore Networks Inc., a Reston, Va.-based research firm, online retail sales on Black Friday reached $434 million -- up 42% from the same day last year. During the first 24 days of November, consumers spent $8.31 billion online -- a 23% increase over the same period last year, comScore said.

"With 42% growth versus the same day last year, it's clear that many consumers opted for the convenience and sanity of shopping from home in order to avoid mayhem at the malls and to take advantage of the extremely attractive deals being offered online," Gian Fulgoni, chairman of comScore Networks, said in a statement. "This growth figure is especially encouraging for online retailers when taking into account that much of the country saw beautiful weather on Friday."

Many consumers appear to be using the Web to shop for prices in local stores and then using that information to buy locally, Fulgoni said. "An analysis of traffic to online comparison shopping sites revealed a distinct surge in visits on Black Friday, as consumers began their traditional hunt for holiday bargain," he said. "Clearly, consumers are increasing their use of online resources to drive their offline shopping.

"On Black Friday, when many consumers were drawing up their 'battle plans' for finding in-store bargains, it appears that the savviest among them had already used the Internet to price items for purchase at local stores offline," Fulgoni continued. "We expect this trend to continue during the holiday season."

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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