US holiday shopping moves earlier in stores and online

CHICAGO: Today's Cyber Monday should still be the top online shopping day of the year but it may pack less of a punch because online sales, a growing number involving mobile devices, soared on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, shoppers continued to visit stores though the burst that began on Thanksgiving night had subsided.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, had traditionally been the kickoff to the holiday season for stores. This year, retailers such as Walmart and Target made their biggest push ever with special offers during the holiday itself.

“The Thanksgiving creep revitalized the thrill for people,” said Wendy Liebmann, chief executive of WSL Strategic Retail. It got people excited to go out. But it pulled a lot of sales forward.”

Cyber Monday, which follows the long holiday weekend, has been the biggest day for online shopping for many years, as workers return to their highspeed Internet connections at the office.

Now, armed with mobile devices, particularly iPads, shoppers are no longer waiting.

Online sales increased 17.4% on Thanksgiving Day and 20.7% on Black Friday compared to 2011, according to IBM Smarter Commerce, a unit of International Business Machines Corp that analyses ecommerce transactions from 500 US retailers.

Mobile shopping is more common than ever, with sales from mobile devices accounting for 16.3% of online sales on Black Friday, up from 9.8% in 2011 and 3.2% in 2010, according to IBM data.

Apple Inc's iPads and iPhones led the charge, with owners using the devices to browse and make purchases.

Mobile devices may have pushed more people to buy online, but shoppers did their homework. Many spent less and bought fewer items each time they clicked.

“We're seeing discounting along with free shipping really attracting some savvy shoppers,” said Jay Henderson, strategy director for IBM Smarter Commerce.

The average order value on Black Friday declined by 4.7% to US$181.22, and the average number of items per order dropped 12% to 5.6, IBM said.

Overall, the percentage of sales from online shopping is expected to rise. However, while retailers bring in more revenue from online shopping, they may also face some higher costs in terms of shipping a larger number of packages to more shoppers.

Among tablets, iPads were the clear leader, generating 88.3 % of traffic to retailers' sites on Friday, followed by Barnes & Noble Inc's Nook with 3.1%, Inc's Kindle with 2.4 % and the Samsung Galaxy with 1.8 %, IBM said.

“It's either going to be a much bigger holiday or people are shopping earlier in the season,” said Scot Wingo, chief executive of ChannelAdvisor, which helps merchants sell more on websites such as Amazon and eBay. “We won't know until later in the season.”

Stores continued to use discounts to lure shoppers on Saturday, with Aeropostale Inc discounting items as much as 70% after a storewide 60% discount on Friday. Rival American Eagle Outfitters Inc continued its two-day sale at 40% off, and Gap Inc's namesake chain was offering 60% discounts. - Reuters

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