Shoppers were just as enthusiastic about shopping on their computers and smartphones on Cyber Monday as they were about finding in-store deals over the weekend.
Online sales on Cyber Monday, which was dreamed up in 2005 by a retail trade group to encourage Americans to shop online on the Monday after Thanksgiving, were up at least 15 percent from a year ago, according to data from IBM Benchmark, while sales from mobile devices were up more than 7 percent. The group did not give dollar amounts.
The extended weekend of strong holiday shopping in the U.S. and radical proposals for stanching Europe's debt crisis sent stocks soaring Monday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index broke a seven-day losing streak, and the Dow Jones industrial average jumped 291 points, its biggest gain in a month.
The Cyber Monday numbers point to Americans' growing comfort with using their personal computers, electronic tablets and smartphones to shop. Over the past few years, big chains such as Walmart, the world's largest retailer, have been offering more and better incentives such as hourly deals and free shipping, to capitalize on that trend. It's important for retailers to make a good showing during the holiday shopping season, a time when they can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue.
On Monday, Amazon.com offered its bigger, more expensive Kindle DX for $259, or $120 off the regular price. The Express clothing chain was giving 30 percent off and free shipping on all online orders. And Walmart was offering an LG 47-inch LED TV for $879, or $320 off the regular price.
Last year, for the first time, the Monday after Thanksgiving was the biggest online shopping day of the year by sales, and the first day ever that online spending passed $1 billion, according to comScore, a research company that measures Web use.
This year, with a record-breaking Black Friday shoppers spent $816 million online, 26 percent more than last year, in addition to spending more offline online retailers geared up for Monday to once again be their best of the season.
"It is a day we look forward to and we prepare for it for months," said Jonathan Johnson, president of Salt Lake City-based Overstock.com, an online discount retailer. "We've been out looking for the best deals and have our warehouse at full staff and ready to go."
Johnson said he anticipated that once all the figures were in for Overstock.com, this year's Cyber Monday would surpass last year.
Among the products offered by Overstock.com that are proving popular among online buyers are flat-screen televisions, electronic tablets, building toys such as LEGOS and clothing.
The Monday after Thanksgiving was Amazon.com's busiest day for the first time last year, when it sold 13.7 million items. Previously, the busiest day fell in mid-December on the last day Amazon offered free shipping in time for Christmas.
Many retailers had such high hopes for the day that they were expanding it. Toys R Us offered Cyber Monday deals Sunday night, and will continue them through the week. West Elm began its promotion Wednesday, and Target went so far as to offer Cyber Monday deals in September.
The strong start to Cyber Monday, a name created by a unit of The National Retail Federation, follows an even stronger kickoff to the holiday shopping season over the weekend. Americans shopped in record numbers, driven by earlier store openings and a push by retailers for online sales.
A record 226 million shoppers visited stores and websites during the four-day holiday weekend starting on Thanksgiving Day, up from 212 million last year, according to the NRF. And sales on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, rose 7 percent to $11.4 billion, the largest amount ever spent, according to ShopperTrak, which gathers stores' data.
Online sales were strong even over the weekend. Thirty-eight percent of all purchases were made online this year, up from 31 percent to 32 percent last year, says Sherif Mityas, partner in the retail practice of A.T. Kearney, who believes the increase was due to heavy promotions.
Barneys, for instance, offered 40 percent off on its website on Thanksgiving Day, a day before it began its sales in stores. And Barnes & Noble offered 40 percent to 75 percent off online products, discounts that weren't available in store.
"Retailers are doing a good job of creating more excitement online in ways they can't do in store," Mityas says. "They're creating that excitement of, 'I've got to get that special deal," that is really spurring traffic.'"
It won't be clear how well retailers will ultimately fare on Cyber Monday until Tuesday. But last year, sales on the day topped $1 billion for the first time, making it the heaviest day of online spending ever.