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Cyber Monday making less of a splash

ATLANTA (Reuters) - “Cyber Monday,” the online Christmas shopping version of Black Friday, may be losing its retailing importance at broadband speed.

People use computers at an Internet cafe in Changzhi, north China's Shanxi province June 20, 2007. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT

Though retail watchers expect online sales to rise on the Monday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 22), some say Cyber Monday as an annual phenomenon is waning as retailers look to draw shoppers online with deals earlier in the festive season.

The term, coined by retailer network Shop.org, refers to the day when many people log on at work to look for gifts they didn’t manage to buy over the long Thanksgiving weekend. It has been seen as the start of the online Christmas shopping season.

“Cyber Monday used to be if not the biggest online shopping day, certainly among the top few,” said Ken Cassar, an analyst with Nielsen Online.

But ever-faster Internet connections in people’s homes have made the day less crucial over the past decade, Cassar said.

“Because the vast majority of online users have access from home via broadband, it’s less necessary that they wait to get to work to begin their holiday (Christmas) shopping,” Cassar said.

He and others noted that while online sales tend to show a pick-up on Cyber Monday, it is not even the biggest online shopping day of the season.

Other experts put that down to increased marketing of big online deals even earlier in the Christmas shopping season.

“Thanksgiving is a huge day because everyone is at home,” said Heather Dougherty, director of research at Hitwise, an Internet measurement firm.

“There are a lot of moms who don’t want to watch (American) football,” Dougherty said. “Thursday is a great day for online retailers to offer promotions and capture people.”

Shoppers are even hopping online early to get a jump on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and traditionally the kick-off to the offline Christmas shopping season. Hitwise found traffic to Web sites advertising Black Friday deals rose 52 percent over last year in the week ended November 10.

“The holiday season is starting earlier and earlier every year, which is what consumers joke about, but it’s honestly happening,” Dougherty said. “People are going online and researching products before the holiday gets started.”

Nonetheless, the effect of people returning to work and shopping from their desks still has an noticeable impact. A poll of nearly 8,000 consumers conducted for Shop.org by BIGresearch found 54.5 percent of office workers with Web access plan to shop at work on the Monday after Thanksgiving, up from 50.7 percent last year and 44.7 percent in 2005.

A survey by BizRate Research of 116 online retailers found that 72.2 percent were planning a Cyber Monday promotion, up from 42.7 percent two years ago. Promotions will range from special email campaigns to one-day sales, it found.

Andrew Lipsman, senior analyst with Internet research firm comScore Networks Inc, said his firm is expecting Cyber Monday sales of more than $700 million (342 million pounds) this year, which would outpace the $608 million in online sales for the year-earlier day.

But he adds that the heaviest online shopping days will come later, “a little bit more than a week before Christmas.”

As major retailers such as Macy’s and J.C. Penney have cut their holiday sales or earnings forecasts as consumers wrestle with higher food and petrol prices, Nielsen’s Cassar said Cyber Monday activity may be softer.

“I would expect to see lower levels of shopping traffic,” the analyst said. In addition to economic challenges, Cassar noted Thanksgiving falls earlier on the calendar this year, leaving more days to shop for Christmas.

Additional reporting by Alexandria Sage in Los Angeles; Editing by Braden Reddall

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