Black Friday Ecommerce Starts Strong as Cyber Monday Looms

Brisk sales over the Thanksgiving holiday continue strong start to the season, come amid strong interest in deals and sturdy site performances, various sources indicate.

With Thanksgiving now passed, the holiday shopping season has started in earnest, and online retailers are enjoying strong early returns.

On the day after Thanksgiving, known in retail circles as Black Friday, Internet merchants saw sales increase 9 percent from last year, netting proceeds of $648 million, according to online metrics firm comScore. On the holiday itself, a large number of Americans took a break from food and football to shop online, with Thanksgiving ecommerce sales soaring 28 percent over last year to $407 million.

"The $648 million in online spending this Black Friday represents the heaviest online spending day of the season-to-date and a solid increase over last year's Black Friday," comScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni said in a statement. "Interestingly, we are also seeing consumers beginning to buy online in a more meaningful way on Thanksgiving Day, which has historically seen low buying activity."

The brisk sales around Thanksgiving continue the strong start to the holiday shopping season Internet retailers have enjoyed, with spending throughout the first three weeks of November increasing up 13 percent from the same period in 2009, comScore reported last week. The firm is forecasting an 11 percent increase in overall online spending for the holiday season.

The latest sign of good news for the ecommerce segment comes as retailers are heavily promoting deals for today, when consumers return to work after the holiday for what has become known as Cyber Monday, a historically heavy spending day, though not the biggest of the season.

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), for instance, has set up a special section of its website showcasing what it bills as Cyber Monday "lighting round" and "doorbuster-style" deals, offering hundreds of discounts on specific products for limited windows throughout the day.

Amazon also ranked as the most heavily trafficked shopping website on Black Friday, with its visitor count surging 25 percent ahead of last year, beating out other popular sites like the Web properties of Walmart, Target and BestBuy, according to comScore.

Meanwhile, comScore found that shoppers are gravitating to sites that aggregate bargains, both for research and planning a trip to a retailer's physical location, and for finding the sites that offer the best deals to buy online. The number of unique visitors to coupon sites on Black Friday increased 4 percent over last year, the firm reported, while overall visits jumped 16 percent.

Of course, online retailers often struggle to keep their sites online and responsive as their traffic ramps up throughout the holiday season. Most sites have held up throughout the Thanksgiving crush, resulting in higher rates of customer satisfaction and, presumably, more sales, according to analysts at Gomez, the Web performance unit of Compuware.

Gomez, which maintains an ongoing index of retailers' site reliability, attributes the relatively steady performance to firms investing in their online infrastructure to meet the seasonal demand and opting not to undertake major site updates over the holidays. While traditional websites are performing strongly, Gomez analysts said that the performance of mobile sites "remains disappointing."

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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