The tendency of consumers to buy stuff via their online and mobile devices has been in place for a while now. Indeed, since November 1, folks have spent $13.7 billion online, according to comScore, a business-analytics firm. But it all seemed to crystallize on Black Friday, when online sales topped $1 billion for the first time ever, a 26% increase over last year. What’s more, online sales on Thanksgiving Day, a traditionally light one for online spending, topped $600 million, a 32% increase over 2011.
In sharp contrast, while retail foot traffic rose slightly on November 23 over last year’s Black Friday traffic, with almost 308 million store visits, in-store sales were down 1.8% year-over-year, according to data-analysis firm ShopperTrak.
Meanwhile, Cyber Monday sales are expected to hit record highs, keeping pace with overall holiday spending, which comScore reports has increased 16% to date over last year.
Clearly, the trend toward online as opposed to in-store shopping is gaining momentum. “More and more consumers tell us that they love the deals that the holiday season offers but they don’t want to fight the crowds in stores to have access to those offers. So the web becomes very compelling,” says Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, principal analyst at research firm Forrester. “Over the last few years, web retailers were matching many of the Black Friday store offers anyway, and savvy shoppers caught on to that trend.”
For many consumers, it’s all about the comforts of home, says Mulpuru-Kodali. “More shoppers than ever have smartphones and tablets, which makes shopping online even easier because you can do it making Thanksgiving dinner or sitting on the couch watching football with your family,” she says. “Before, you had to go find the desktop PC, which was often in a home office or bedroom somewhere and wasn’t the most social thing to do.”
And these sales jumps earlier in the shopping cycle likely won’t have an effect on Cyber Monday, says Mulpuru-Kodali. “[Online] sales should continue to break records,” she says. “I will be surprised if Cyber Monday isn’t the biggest shopping day of the year for most web retailers.”
Part of the reason online sales are booming is the proliferation and widespread adoption of mobile devices. According to a survey conducted last week by the National Retail Federation, 20.4 million people planned to use their smartphones or other mobile device to shop this Cyber Monday, a 14.4% increase over last year.
But mobile isn’t the whole story — access to ubiquitous computing is. A case in point: if you’re planning to sneak in some shopping today while on the clock, you’re not alone: The NRF survey estimates that 16 million people will use their work computers to shop today.