Cyber Monday spreads as Amazon woos iPhone owners

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

(c) 2013, Bloomberg News.

Cyber Monday, billed as one of the busiest online-commerce days of the year, is spilling into the rest of the holiday season as more consumers use mobile devices to shop whenever they please.

No longer waiting to return to work on the Monday after Thanksgiving to surf Web deals, consumers armed with tablets and smartphones are ordering online over a longer stretch, data from ComScore Inc. show. That's spurring e-commerce heavyweights such as and eBay to grapple with retailers including Macy's Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp. in using online promotions and mobile applications to lure tech-savvy gift buyers long before and after Cyber Monday.

As more purchasing happens over the Web, e-commerce will keep outstripping shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. Online holiday sales will increase as much as 15 percent to $82 billion, more than three times faster than the total gain of 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

"It now becomes more of a bell curve, where things start much sooner and end later," said Steve Yankovich, vice president of innovation and new ventures at eBay, which is adding features to its mobile app that tailor the shopping experience for individual users. "It's more fuzzy because we can shop so many more ways and have products fulfilled in more ways."

Evidence of an extended online buying period emerged last year, especially on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, as consumers browsed online offers between post-turkey naps. Growth in spending on those days rose — up 32 percent on Thanksgiving versus 18 percent in 2011 — while the pace of Cyber Monday sales growth slowed to 17 percent last year, compared with 22 percent the year prior, according to ComScore.

The trend is set to accelerate this year as mobile offers take off. Commerce on tablets and smartphones grew twice as fast in the third quarter as desktop online spending, and Web users in August spent more time engaging with retailers on mobile devices than on desktops for the first time, according to ComScore.

The mobile wave is shifting the shopping behavior of people like Cristin Zweig, a 29-year-old communications manager at Trulia Inc. who splits her time between Chicago and San Francisco. While she used to focus her holiday hunting on Black Friday deals, Zweig said she may forgo that practice this year to take advantage of mobile promotions from her couch or the plane the following week.

"I used to look at Black Friday deals and see what was happening, but after this year I know I can get deals all the time, so I'm no longer concerned." said Zweig. "If you get 15 percent more off if you buy through your mobile app, that's a bigger incentive for me."

Today, one third of average monthly traffic for leading retailers -- like Amazon, eBay, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. -- is from smartphones and tablets, according to ComScore. As a result, the stores are offering more holiday deals that can reach consumers whenever they're plugged into those devices. The holiday season is crucial for companies such as Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, which depends on gifters to fuel its biggest-revenue quarter. The company is projected to gross 35 percent of its 2013 sales in the last three months of the year, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

This year, Amazon is beginning its Black Friday sale a day earlier than 2012 and will have new deals and gift ideas as often as every 10 minutes online. It also has a record number of mobile offers compared with past years, said Julie Law, a spokeswoman for the Seattle-based company.

"We are significantly increasing the volume of deals throughout the holiday season, not just on peak days," she said.

EBay, owner of the world's largest online marketplace, this month released a new version of its mobile-shopping RedLaser app. The program from the San Jose, California-based company lets shoppers compare prices at a number of stores, including eBay's own marketplace, putting its products in front of more consumers at the moment they're ready to make a purchase. The newest iteration is equipped to push more coupons to consumers and discounts if they choose to shop on mobile.

Sears also is rolling out more mobile promotions sooner this year. The retailer started what it calls a holiday bonus offer on Nov. 1, which lets members get 10 percent back in loyalty points on all their purchases throughout the holiday season and includes a horde of mobile coupons.

Consumers with Sears's mobile app can check in and access e-coupons customized to their tastes, based on past buying behavior, said Brian Hanover, a spokesman for the company. Customers can also keep track of their loyalty points and ping the store to let employees know they're in a particular parking spot waiting to pick up a product that was ordered online. Sears guarantees that purchases will be delivered to the car within five minutes.

"It's one of our more aggressive offers ever," said Hanover. "Mobile is the glue to seamless offline and online e- commerce."

Even smaller retailers are getting in on the act. Online beauty products retailer Julep Beauty kicked off the first week of this month — which it has dubbed Cyber November — with promotions akin to those it ran on past Cyber Mondays, said Chief Executive Officer Jane Park. That's sooner than the Seattle-based startup began deals last year, she said.

"We are doubling down on Monday the 25th and viewing that as the kickoff to Black Friday Week," Park said. "Because it's hard to extend holidays on the back end, many e-tailers who have the flexibility of modifying and reworking promotions are pulling the holiday season forward more aggressively than ever before."

By Nov. 18, 10 percent of shoppers had completed holiday purchases, a threshold that's usually reached over Black Friday weekend, according to researcher NPD Group.

That doesn't mean retailers are ignoring Cyber Monday. While consumers can get deals over a longer stretch, companies such as eBay still project the Monday after Thanksgiving to be the biggest e-commerce shopping day as retailers capitalize on consumers' habitual deal searching. The frenzy may result in the heaviest online buying day in history this year, increasing more than 20 percent to about $2 billion, according to ComScore.

"Cyber Monday, Black Friday, those are well-known consumer events that you can rally the customer around to look for deals," Yankovich said. "It's not that they don't matter. They still create an awareness."

_ With assistance from Lauren Coleman-Lochner in New York.