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THE GIFT ISSUE

Cyber Monday? Not so much

The myth of the "busiest online shopping day"

November 18, 2007|Adam Tschorn | Times Staff Writer

According to retail lore, Black Friday -- the biggest or second-biggest brick-and-mortar shopping day of the year -- is followed three days later by "Cyber Monday." That's the day the nation's cubicle dwellers emerge from their collective turkey comas and buy enough L.L. Bean socks, Harry Potter books and robotic vacuum cleaners to make it the busiest online shopping day of the year.

Only it's not. According to comScore, a company that tracks online spending in the U.S., the 2006 holiday season honors went to Wednesday, Dec. 13 ("Cyber Hump Day" anyone?), which generated $667 million. The Monday after Thanksgiving only saw $607.6 million in e-commerce. The year before, Monday, Dec. 12, topped the list with $556 million.

So how did the 12th busiest day of the holiday season get singled out as something special? The credit goes to Ellen Davis, senior director of strategic communications for the National Retail Federation, who coined the term "Cyber Monday" two years ago after retailers mentioned a recurring spike in online sales the Monday after Thanksgiving.

"We thought about calling it 'Black Monday,' " she said, "but that's also the term for the big stock market crash, so we didn't want to go there. We considered 'Blue Monday' -- because of the color of hyperlinks -- but that had the connotation of being sad or depressed."

Davis said that though the "cyber" prefix may seem outdated, "it does give you a pretty good idea of what it is."

She said the term is intended to signal the start of the online shopping season, with online retailers offering discounts and deals (similar to Black Friday's door-busters) and does not necessarily refer to the busiest single day for e-commerce.

Nonetheless, the term took on a life of its own, spreading faster than a chain e-mail promising a free laptop from Bill Gates.

Enjoying the celebri-day status, the federation launched cybermonday.com last year, as a clearinghouse for deals and specials offered by 500 members of its shop.org association of online retailers.

So what about this season's busiest day for e-commerce? Forecasts center on two possible Mondays. With the caveat that he isn't issuing an official forecast, comScore senior analyst Andrew Lipsman said Monday, Dec. 17, seems like a logical choice. "It's usually a Monday or a Tuesday at least a week before Christmas, though with the holiday on a Tuesday it might push it back an additional week." That would make it Monday, Dec. 10.

That's the date Dariana Lau, spokeswoman for a cluster of online companies including EBay, PayPal and shopping.com, has circled on her calendar.

"The second Monday of December was our busiest day last year, and we expect it to be this year too. I know it sounds cheesy to go with the color thing, but around here we call it 'Green Monday.' "

And don't put the crayon box away just yet. Matt Tatham, a spokesman for Hitwise, a company that tracks 100 of the largest online retailers, says there's another trend that's emerged over the last few holiday seasons: the greatest amount of online traffic (searching and visiting, though not necessarily buying) happening on turkey day itself.

"After the tryptophan wears off, we've seen that people are going online and planning their strategies for the brick-and-mortar stores," Tatham said. "Then they go out and shop the deals Friday and the weekend."

Tatham cited a Hitwise study that found savvy consumers -- and retailers -- have started leveraging the term Black Friday, with searches on "Black Friday ads" up 91% compared with last year.

Which could only mean one thing: Brown Thursday.

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adam.tschorn@latimes.com

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