A record number of shoppers shows Cyber Monday is here to stay

As if all the Black Friday hype weren't enough, here comes Cyber Monday. With the day after Thanksgiving now firmly entrenched as a holiday shopping tradition, retailers are shooting to do the same for online buying on the Monday after the holiday. Nine out of 10 retailers plan to have some kind of special offers for online shoppers, according to a survey from Shop.org, the National Retail Federation's Internet arm.

The NRF expects a record 96.5 million shoppers will go online looking for Cyber Monday bargains -- everything from cut-rate discounts to free shipping. That's a higher number than the group previously anticipated, says Vice President Ellen Davis. With those numbers, the NRF expects it will be as successful as the Black Friday sales, which racked up 195 million store visits over the weekend, she says.

Black Friday Wrap: Good Crowds, Penny-Pinching Shoppers

The number of retailers offering Cyber Monday deals has grown 15 percentage points in two years, from 72.2% in 2007 to 87.1% this year. For example, J.C. Penney (JCP) will have 30,000 sale items on jcpenney.com and free shipping for orders over $25, Adidas.com will have 20% off all orders and free shipping on those over $49, and jewelry website Ashford.com plans to have hourly "screen busters" offering up to 90% off watches.

Shop.org has launched a separate website, CyberMonday.com, offering special deals from online retailers every hour through the day.

Back in the Dial-Up Days...

Cyber Monday, however, has been a source of debate ever since online retailers first started promoting it over five years ago. While traffic does spike on Cyber Monday, holiday sales online don't really peak until the week before Christmas, when the window to order in time for Christmas delivery begins to close. Indeed, a Black Friday piece in The Los Angeles Times argues that it's become more virtual than real. It's "a marketing hook" for retailers, the writer says.

Admittedly, Cyber Monday is a throwback to the days of dial-up Internet service, when shoppers had to wait until they went back to work on Monday -- and to their faster office computers -- to do heavy-duty online shopping. But according to Shop.org's survey, only 13.5% of consumers will admit to shopping online at work this year, and 91.5% will shop from their home computers. With more than 60% of U.S. households now wired for broadband, high-speed surfing for deals has become routine.

Davis agrees the shopping trends have changed over the last five years. However, she also notes that the number of shoppers has skyrocketed. "The importance of shopping from work has declined, but not the importance of shopping online," she says.

A recent forecast from Forrester Research estimates online holiday sales will reach $44.7 billion this year, up 8% over last year. That's a significant hike, considering most forecasts are calling for overall spending to be flat, give or take one percentage point up or down.

So Cyber Monday is turning into the Mothers Day of online shopping: A special occasion created by retailers to goose business. And like Mother's Day -- and Black Friday -- it appears to be here to stay.

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