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Cyber Monday sets mobile shopping record in US

US shoppers spent $1.59 billion using their phones on Cyber Monday, a new record. Overall online shopping also hit a one-day US record, at $6.59 billion.

Dan Sipple via Getty Images

A phone these days is a lot of things: a tiny TV, a game console, a home for your Animoji farm. Despite years of retailer effort, though, it hasn't functioned all that well as a storefront to sell you actual goods.

The big kickoff to the holiday shopping season shows that may finally be changing.

US sales on phones this Cyber Monday came in at $1.59 billion -- a new single-day record -- up 39 percent from last year, according to Adobe Analytics. That new high helped boost overall Cyber Monday sales to a single-day US online sales record of $6.59 billion, up 16.8 percent from last year.

"The past Cyber Monday behavior of shopping on your work computer during the day is almost completely reversed," Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights, said Tuesday. "This year, mobile shopping was dominant both in the morning and afternoon, and desktop only staged a comeback in the evening when people were home."

Granted, most online buying still happens using a desktop, but the stronger numbers from phones point to a change in shopping habits. While a shift to mobile may make shopping more convenient for consumers, it could bode poorly for traditional retailers if they lose more customers to mobile-friendly competitors.

Overall, smartphones accounted for 21 percent of online sales on Cyber Monday, while tablets accounted for 9 percent. Desktops brought in the rest, Adobe said. The heftier online sales on Cyber Monday kept up the strong growth on both Black Friday -- $5.03 billion, up 16.9 percent from last year -- and on Thanksgiving itself -- $2.87 billion, up 18.3 percent from a year ago.

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Using phones as a hub for shopping still has its challenges, with consumers regularly complaining about having to plug in their addresses and billing information in those tiny screens. Poorly functioning mobile websites don't help either.

But major retailers like Walmart and payment providers like PayPal and Visa have made changes over the years that have helped smooth out those issues. Mobile sites aren't as lousy, and the checkout process for many sites has been streamlined. There's still plenty of improvements to make, but mobile shopping is becoming less of a pain, said Tamara Gaffney, an Adobe analyst.

Bolstering that view, e-commerce software provider Shopify said most Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales on sites using its software came from mobile. The company said the growth its seeing from phones stems from a faster checkout process and a better mobile experience. 

The situation for brick-and-mortar stores seems less rosy. While online sales have been surging, shopper traffic in stores on Black Friday was flat, according to ShopperTrak. Still, the vast majority of holiday sales happens in stores, not online. Total holiday sales are expected to reach $682 billion this year in the US, with online sales accounting for about $107 billion of that figure, the National Retail Federation and Adobe have said.

Traditional retailers have benefited by connecting their stores to their online sites, offering popular buy-online-pick-up-in-store options or fulfillment of online orders directly from local stores, said Steve Laughlin, general manager of IBM's global consumer industries, which sells mainframes and analytics software to retailers.

"We still really believe stores matter and retailers are starting to do things that are making stores matter again," Laughlin said. "But I think there's more to be done."

For the rest of the holiday season, Gaffney said prices will start to slowly creep back up, as retailers switch their focus from marketing to shoppers interested in the lowest prices to those more interested in convenience. Plenty of more big shopping days are coming, with 13 more days projected to exceed $2 billion in online sales during the rest of the holiday shopping season, Adobe said.

Best-selling electronics on Monday included the Nintendo Switch, Apple iPad and AirPods, Sony Playstation VR, Google Chromecast and Samsung tablets, Adobe said. Top-selling toys included PJ Masks and Hatchimals & Colleggtibles, Funko Pop and L.O.L. Surprise dolls, as well as Ride On Cars.

Amazon said Tuesday it marked a record holiday weekend for its devices, with the Echo Dot being the top-selling product globally. The company didn't release specific sales figures.

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