According to market researchers, holiday sales on the day after Thanksgiving—called "Black Friday" because that is the day, historically, that many retailers "went into the black" (became profitable for the year)—were about even with same-day sales from a year earlier. But another holiday sales tradition, Cyber Monday, might simply be a figment of retailers' imaginations. These days, it seems, everyone is shopping online. And they're not waiting for Monday to do so.
Retailers push hard to entice consumers into stores on Black Friday, offering massive sales on limited numbers of highly desirable products. This year, for example, electronic retailer Best Buy lured customers with promises of $200 netbooks, $9 Blu-ray movies, and $99 Blu-ray players. Of course, mixed in with these deals are heavily advertised products that haven't, in fact, been discounted. Best Buy also placed a $300 Sony PlayStation 3 prominently on the front page of its Black Friday circular. That's the normal price for the console.
Consumers are now conditioned to line up early to get the best deals, as well. At my local Best Buy, for example, a long line snaked around the back of the building a day before the Black Friday 5am opening time. These lines, common around the country, should serve as a reminder that the current economic crisis, while bad, is nowhere near as damaging as the Great Depression from 80 years ago. Back then, people waited in line, too, but for food—not unnecessary electronic niceties.
Although Black Friday was reasonably successful, retailers are cautious now heading into the holiday selling season. Despite the long lines on Friday and heavy retail traffic throughout the weekend, there are signs that consumers are simply buying up gifts now while they're still available, fearing stock problems in the weeks ahead. We could see a big drop-off in sales as we move into December.
And that brings us to today—the so-called Cyber Monday. Years ago, Cyber Monday was coined as the second post-Thanksgiving day in which retailers would experience a sales boost, this time via online sales. But Cyber Monday sales are predicated on a situation that is no longer common: 10 years ago, most people had better computers and Internet connections at work, and when they returned to work after the long Thanksgiving weekend, they would use these PCs and connections to do more shopping online.
Today, most people have better computers and Internet connections at home, so if Cyber Monday still matters at all, it's only because retailers are artificially propping up the day with Monday-only sales. And as consumers move to Internet-enabled smart phones, they're also starting to shop online on-the-go. This means that they can buy whenever they want, but also wherever they want. It's a trend that could lead to the end of Cyber Monday and even Black Friday. Mobile Thanksgiving, anyone?