- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2005

Today, employees across the country return to work after a day of feasting and, of course, a day of shopping. But for shoppers with unfinished business — or office employees who need a break from business — the Monday after Thanksgiving has become one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

Online retailers have been busy tempting buyers with special promotions, discounts and deals on shipping. Now they are bracing for “Cyber Monday.”

“It’s really the official kickoff of the online holiday season,” said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org, a trade group of online retailers and a division of the National Retail Federation.

Overall retail sales jumped 22 percent to $27.8 billion during the post-Thanksgiving weekend as shoppers flocked to stores to buy electronics, clothing and books, the federation reported yesterday.

Shoppers spent an average $302.81, the Washington trade group said, adding that 145 million shoppers went to stores or to the Internet as retailers offered substantial discounts.

Seventy-seven percent of online retailers said their sales shot up last year on the Monday after Black Friday, according to a Shop.org survey of 119 online merchants. The day after Thanksgiving got its name because that is when many retailers turn their first profits for the year.

Retailers credit the Cyber Monday surge to several causes, including shoppers who were unable to finish all of their shopping over the weekend or those who might have access to a faster Internet connection at the office.

Thirty-seven percent of shoppers said they plan to do their Cyber Monday shopping at work, Shop.org reported.

“More and more people are going out and doing their homework and then coming back,” said John Challenger, president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consulting firm based in Chicago. “Monday is a day not only to pick the best deals that you’ve found but also, ‘That was something I saw and I really wanted and I didn’t get it.’”

Mr. Challenger said employers shouldn’t be too hasty in disciplining workers for shopping on the Internet.

“Most companies today really are quite tolerant and understand that people use their desktops at work for all kinds of personal business,” he said, adding that conscientious employees might arrive early to work or do their shopping over lunch hour. “I think for most employers, the people who abuse it they can pull aside and deal with it on a one-on-one situation.”

Online retailers — 43 percent of whom said they plan to offer special promotions for Cyber Monday — say they anticipate one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

“We don’t know what’s going on but our sales are up over 100 percent from last year,” said Shmuel Gniwisch, chief executive officer of Ice.com, an online jewelry retailer. Mr. Gniwisch said the company, which is holding a half-price sale and offering free shipping, is nearly sold out of inventory.

According to the Shop.org survey, 89 percent of jewelry and luxury retailers saw a spike in online business at this time last year. Electronics retailers were the second-biggest winners, with 86 percent saying they benefited from the Cyber Monday phenomenon.

“With electronics, you see more online purchasing because obviously people who are interested in electronics are more tech savvy and a little bit more accustomed to purchasing online,” said Suzie Stephens, a spokeswoman for the Sharper Image, which is offering 20 percent off an identical item with any purchase. “In addition, electronics are a lot easier to purchase online because it’s not like an article of clothing or something that a lot of people need to try out.”

PetSmart Stores anticipates record-breaking online sales this year, spokeswoman Shana Costarella said.

“We’re expecting it to be our biggest day for online shopping ever,” Ms. Costarella said. The pet supplies provider is continuing a number of holiday specials through Cyber Monday, including free shipping on orders of $60 or more and drawings to win free gift cards.

Patrick Byrne, president of Overstock.com, an online retailer of brand-name merchandise, said he isn’t surprised by the Cyber Monday trend.

“No lines, no hassles, no sloshing through snowy parking lots and traffic accidents, no surly shop assistants and lots of information about the products you want,” Mr. Byrne said. “I’m surprised people go to malls anymore.”

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