Cyber Monday, you're no Black Friday

Monday was supposed to be the busiest online shopping day of the year. Right, and Santa has a factory in China that's pumping out PS3s.

There are plenty of happy holiday myths: Santa Claus, elves, flying reindeer, toys that come fully assembled.

Now you can add "Cyber Monday" to that end-of-year fantasy list. Another year has come and gone and, as many predicted, by late in the day on the West Coast, Cyber Monday appeared to be just another busy holiday shopping day.

Retailers, of course, have breathlessly promoted the first Monday after Thanksgiving as a crucial day for online shopping, the day Web cash registers were supposed to be stuffed as bargain hunters got an early jump on holiday gift buying. But in all the effort to hype the day, somebody forgot to tell consumers.

"The holiday season starts like a tide coming in and out beginning in early November. The first tsunami wave hit on Friday."
--Patrick Byrne, CEO,

"We didn't see any unusual (traffic) on the site," said Craig Berman, an spokesman, who added that the company's biggest day last year was December 12.

The term Cyber Monday was coined to help promote online retail and to build an Internet equivalent to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the year for brick-and-mortar retailers.

As it turns out, Web stores don't need a new Black Friday. The old one works just fine.

Research firm comScore Networks said that Friday's Internet spending topped $430 million, a 42 percent jump from the same day last year.

"Our sales last Friday were three times higher than any Friday of the previous month," said Patrick Byrne, chief executive of e-tail store "The holiday season starts like a tide coming in and out beginning in early November. The first tsunami wave hit on Friday."

Friday also saw some top retailers struggling to service all the visitors to their site. While site outages are never good, they are an indicator of large traffic spikes.

Shoppers swamped, rendering the site nearly inaccessible for 10 hours, the company said. Keynote Systems, which measures Web site performance, also noted a brief disruption at Amazon during a sale on deeply discounted Xbox 360 game consoles.

A Keynote spokesman said the company had not seen any similar issues among the top online retailers on Monday.

Put a fork in the myth So was Cyber Monday just a marketing tool to rev up online holiday spending? Sort of. Industry group National Retail Federation coined the term a year ago, but an NRF representative says it never meant to say it was the busiest online shopping day of the year.

"It's not a gimmick," said Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the NRF, which is based in D.C. "We never said that Cyber Monday was the busiest day of the year. The press picked that up and wrote what they wanted."

Krugman said the NRF created the term to describe a trend after a survey of online retailers discovered that holiday shopping began ramping up on that day. Retailers have used the term as an opportunity for the "ceremonial kickoff of holiday shopping," he said.

One can hardly blame executives at retail sites for steering people to virtual aisles as early as possible. A Web store is up against tighter deadlines than its offline competition.

Retail Web sites must ship holiday gifts, and that takes time. Many Web sites need orders placed by at least December 22 to guarantee delivery by Christmas day. That means that when brick-and-mortar stores are ringing up procrastinators and last-minute shoppers, the Web stores are effectively shut down. It's in the stores' interest to prod shoppers to shop early.

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