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11/23/2005
04:05 PM
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Online Sales Get Boost When Buyers Return To Work

Cyber Monday is becoming one of the biggest days for holiday sales

The day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday because many stores move into the black based on the huge sales of that day. Now, Black Friday has a companion: Cyber Monday, the day people return to work and use their office Internet connections to buy many of the things they saw in stores over the weekend.

With Cyber Monday becoming one of the biggest online shopping days of the year, retailers have learned to prepare. Some 77% of online retailers said their sales significantly increased on that day last year, according to Shop.org/BizRate Research's eHoliday Mood study of 1,891 online buyers and 119 online retailers, which was released by the National Retail Federation last week. Nearly 52 million people are expected to use the Net at work to browse or buy gifts this year, says a separate survey released last week by Shop.org, an association for online retailers.

Retailers aren't taking any chances--they're offering online discounts and promotions on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Ice.com, an online jewelry retailer, is offering free shipping and a gift-with-purchase promotion to shoppers who buy on those two days. "The results are unbelievable," says Pinny Gniwisch, founder and executive VP of marketing. The site expects 400,000 to 600,000 visitors on Cyber Monday, double the usual traffic.

Shopping Plans, pie chartRetailers Ready For Surge
But with millions of consumers accessing Web sites to make purchases, retailers need to avoid glitches that could slow responsiveness or even crash sites. Ice has prepared for the large traffic volume it's expecting by installing three backup servers in its offices in Boston and two servers in Montreal over the past three weeks. "We're prepared for five times the amount of traffic we're getting," Gniwisch says.

Jewelry and luxury retailers did the best last year, with 89% reporting an increase in online sales on Cyber Monday, more than any other type of retailer, according to Shop.org's survey.

Other types of online retailers also are expecting sales growth. Fitness- and dance-apparel retailer Danskin also is offering free shipping, as well as 20% off a $100 purchase. Danskin is anticipating a 75% increase in traffic on Cyber Monday, compared with a typical Monday, says Eric Nadler, VP of E-commerce.

Ice also hired 10 customer-service representatives and has 4,000 packages of the most popular items ready to ship. To make online navigation easier, Danskin created on the home page a Gift Center portal, which links shoppers directly to the company's hottest products.

High gas prices and other factors are expected to help drive online shopping. America Online reported last week that 49% of the 6,239 consumers it polled said it's becoming too expensive to drive to stores; therefore, 52% plan to shop more online this year than last year.

The Web has become an important channel for shoppers looking for deals on popular products and toys. Some sites started posting promotional ads and sales fliers weeks before the official start of the holiday shopping season. Web sites such as Barg-N-Finders Marketplace (www.bfads.com), BlackFridayAds.com, and GottaDeal.com have popped up in recent months to leak advance notice of unpromoted sales slated to occur on Black Friday. The increased online traffic at Black Friday sites was enormous last week. Barg-N-Finders saw its traffic spike 519% from the previous week, while BlackFridayAds and GottaDeal were up 437% and 138%, respectively.

Online shopping has been showing strong growth all year. Danskin's October traffic was up 90% year over year, Nadler says. "We think it has to do with the fact that more people now have high-speed access at home," he says. "Cyber Monday or regular Monday, people are simply shopping online more."

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