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Cyber Monday nabs sales record again, but perhaps not for long

With more holiday spending happening earlier, Cyber Monday may soon lose its crown as the biggest online US sales day of the year.

Cyber Monday is Amazon's busiest sales day of the year, though that may be changing.
Ralph D. Freso/Reuters/Corbis

If you held off until Cyber Monday to find the best holiday deals, you probably waited too long.

The online shopping event this year reached $3 billion in sales, up 12 percent from last year, software giant Adobe reported late Monday, making it the largest online sales day in the US ever.

The question is: Will this be the last year that happens?

With more retailers starting their holiday deals earlier and consumers following suit with earlier holiday spending, there's a strong chance Thanksgiving weekend will continue pulling sales away from Cyber Monday in the coming years. That means consumers hoping to snag the best deals of the season may have to start shopping well before the turkey and cranberry sauce are served.

"The early bird gets the worm," Tamara Gaffney, an Adobe principal analyst, said in an interview. "That's part of the reason we think Cyber Monday won't continue to be the biggest online day going forward in a couple of years."

Granted, online sellers like Amazon have a big interest in keeping Cyber Monday strong, so they tend to save deals and inventory specifically for that day. But as growing crowds show up to online stores during the long holiday weekend, out-of-stock rates tend to surge come Cyber Monday and many of the most affordable items are already gone, Gaffney said. Adobe found that out-of-stock rates on Cyber Monday this year were at an all-time high, with 13 of 100 product views showing an out-of-stock message, more than twice the normal rate.

In a sign of changing consumer spending, Thanksgiving saw a spike in online sales this year, reaching $1.7 billion, up a whopping 25 percent, Adobe said. Black Friday online sales jumped 14 percent to $2.7 billion, also outpacing Cyber Monday's growth. To compile its estimates, Adobe says it measures 80 percent of all online transactions from the top 100 US retailers.

Those increases were helped by many retailers starting holiday discounts early, such as Amazon opening its Black Friday storefront on November 2 this year, just days after Halloween.

"A lot of these titles that we had in our vocabulary historically, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, have become extended into ... weeks," Richard Barry, Toys "R" Us chief merchandising officer, said in an interview, mentioning that his company's Black Friday sales started the Sunday prior.

Regardless of when the deals start coming, consumers seem to know when to start buying. For instance, Toys "R" Us started Cyber Monday sales early in the day Sunday this year, about 12 hours sooner than the year before.

"As we flick the switch on the pricing," Barry said, "you see the sales rolling in."