Online Retailers Hedging Holiday Hopes for Black Friday, Cyber Monday


I am about the least trendy person out there, but I do have trendy friends. Here are recent updates from two of my Facebook friends, both of whom I will call "Mavis" to protect their privacy and their cool factor, which would doubtless suffer from association with me.


"Mavis loves Christmas shopping online! You folks have fun out there fighting mall traffic," written the day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday


"Mavis' mouse is stirring as she takes part in Cyber Monday shopping," written at lunch time today.


My friends' comments notwithstanding, online sales are expected to suffer this year, right along with their bricks-and-mortar counterparts, as a harsh economy leads folks to rein in spending.


As John Paczkowski notes on Digital Daily, online shoppers clicked their way to $534 million worth of purchases on Friday, a 1 percent increase over 2007. That figure likely won't excite online retailers all that much, considering that folks have spent 4 percent less during this year's holiday shopping season to date. Not to mention, online Black Friday sales grew 22 percent from 2006 to 2007, according to Internet measurement company Comscore.


They're hoping for bigger numbers today, the much-hyped Monday after Thanksgiving when folks like my pal "Mavis" take advantage of their employers' honking big bandwidth to search for Christmas bargains. There is an apparent increase in online browsers, based on numbers from Nielsen Research, writes Paczkowski. I suspect this is because folks want to get the best possible deal, whether online or offline.


Based on their online behavior, bargains are definitely on shoppers' minds this year, reports SFGate.com. Google has seen big spikes in traffic for terms like discount, coupons and "buy one, get one free." According to Google, searches for the latter term are up 200 percent since last year. Auction site eBay is pushing bargains instead of its usual bling, offering promotions for "$1 holiday doorbusters" that are available only in quantities of 50 and showcasing sellers willing to offer beginning bids of $1.


Yet online retailers may have trouble converting all of these online browsers to buyers if they can't eliminate technical glitches like one that took down Sears.com for two hours and another that slowed transactions at Amazon.com on Friday.


Those problems pale in comparison to issues that bedeviled a much-hyped 40 percent off promotion offered to shoppers using Microsoft's Live Search Cashback site to buy gear from HP and others. Though no one knows exactly what happened, writes TechFlash blogger Todd Bishop, it hacked off plenty of people who posted about negative experiences on Twitter, TechCrunch and other tech-oriented sites. These are exactly the kinds of viral and fast-spreading reactions companies fear the most, as I wrote earlier this year.


Then, of course, there are still the kinds of niggly service issues that IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson wrote about on Thursday. A recent UK survey of online shopping habits, conducted by Harris Interactive, revealed 41 percent of online shoppers will switch to a competitor and/or abandon transactions if they experience problems with a Web site. Eighty-four percent confessed they'd share their experiences with others, both online and offline. (See above.) According to Harris Interactive, this creates a $57 billion potential impact to revenue to shopping sites alone.


As Loraine writes: "Ouch."


Cyber Monday likely won't be the only day retailers will try to lure shoppers with online bargains, according to SFGate.com. Google predicts two other big shopping blitzes in addition to Black Friday and Cyber Monday: the so-called Green Monday, a week from today; and around Dec. 15, the deadline for packages ordered with free shipping to arrive for the holidays.