As a phenomenon, Cyber Monday has a shorter history than Black Friday, but its origins are closely related. Where "Black Friday" began with the observation that most retail stores' ledger books moved from loss to profit, or "went into the black," for the year on the day after Thanksgiving -- the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season -- "Cyber Monday" began when online retailers noted that they experienced a significant jump in sales on the following Monday. According to the National Retail Federation's digital division, Shop.org, 77% of online retailers surveyed after the 2004 holiday shopping season reported a jump in sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving - and with that statistic in hand, Shop.org coined the term "Cyber Monday" to describe the phenomenon.
While smaller in total sales volume than Black Friday - a period that is gradually expanding to encompass the holiday preceding it and the weekend following it - Cyber Monday is a legitimate retailing phenomenon. Just how legitimate was underscored by the figures online retailers rang up on Cyber Monday 2010: $1.03 billion, up 12 percent from last year. That made the day the biggest online shopping day ever and the first to achieve more than $1 billion in sales.
Most of those sales came from people doing their holiday shopping at work. This form of multitasking would irritate bosses if they weren't doing it themselves. Besides avoiding lines at stores, shopping online from work also lets shoppers choose surprise presents for friends and loved ones without worrying that the recipients will find them in advance and blow the surprise.
This year's Cyber Monday set several other new highs. The number of people shopping online that day rose 4 percent, to 9 million, and those online shoppers spent more: 12 percent more overall on average and 10 percent more per transaction. Total transaction volume rose too, by 6 percent.
As a report on Cyber Monday 2010 in Fast Company noted, total sales volume on Cyber Monday actually outpaced Black Friday's online sales volume of $648 million.
In some of the countries that observe it, Cyber Monday is a week-long phenomenon. It hasn't stretched out that long yet in the U.S., but give it time - it probably will. Scratch that - it already is: Shop.org's Cyber Monday Web site, http://www.cybermonday.com/, offers Cyber Monday-style deals from online retailers all year long. A portion of the proceeds from all sales on the site benefit Shop.org's Ray M. Greenly Scholarship Fund, which provides tuition assistance for students pursuing careers in e-commerce.
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By Sandy Smith
Sandy Smith is an award-winning writer and editor who has spent most of his career in public relations and corporate communications. His work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia CityPaper, PGN, and a number of Web sites. Philly-area residents may also recognize him as "MarketStEl" of discussion-board fame. He has been a part of the great reserve army of freelance writers since January 2009 and is actively seeking opportunities wherever they may lie.