By Michelle Quinn, Matt Dibble
Created 14 years ago, Cyber Monday, the online shopping holiday the Monday after Thanksgiving, seems like a relic from a different digital era.
Cyber Monday gained popularity as a day for eye-popping online sales, coming three days after Black Friday, traditionally the busiest day of the year for brick-and-mortar stores.
At the time, digital shopping was still new for many. Cyber Monday’s pitch was to get mall-weary U.S. consumers to use their workplace computers and employers’ internet connections to keep America’s holiday shopping frenzy going — online.
Today, online stores don’t really need the help of a special U.S. shopping day as they once did, retail experts say. Each year, digital sales slowly but surely eat into a bigger chunk of traditional store sales than they did a year earlier. Shopping on mobile phones is growing fast, particularly among younger consumers. Whether it be for smartphones, authentic watches or even other electronics, people usually prefer online shopping over physical shopping.
Now the entire Thanksgiving weekend is known by some retail experts as the Cyber Five. In one recent survey, 54 percent of U.S. consumers said they would do most of their holiday shopping online, according to The Washington Post.
“This Cyber Monday we will see more and more sales,” said Mark Lewis, CEO of Netalico, an e-commerce consulting firm. “More and more people will migrate to shopping online than shopping in stores.”
Online shopping pros, cons
Online shopping can be convenient and fast but also tedious and impersonal.
In-person shopping can be more visceral, but it also means battling crowds, parking hassles and long lines at the register.
“I prefer to shop in brick-and-mortar stores because I’m someone who likes instant gratification,” said Cortney DeMello, a shopper and retail worker. “I want to be able to walk in, take things out and leave with them.”
Retailers and shoppers alike are increasingly blending their digital and in-store experiences.
Tucked in an alley off a main shopping area in San Francisco, Re:Store, where DeMello works, offers clothing and jewelry that are mostly available online and have become popular on Instagram.
“Our slogan is ‘for people who like touching things,’ because it’s all these Instagram brands that you could shop in real life,” she said.
Another store, B8ta, sells electronics and other products in a showroom at a time when such merchandise increasingly is purchased online.
“This is a retail store where we focus on showing off products primarily found online,” Jake Cardin, a merchandise manager with a B8ta store, said.
If a B8ta shopper likes a digital translator but buys it from Amazon on Cyber Monday, that’s OK for B8ta. The store shares its data with the companies behind the products.
Cameras in the ceilings and over the doorways measure the number of bodies in the space, giving companies information about how anonymous shoppers spent time with their products.
Technology in shopping
Cyber Monday is a time for many online stores to try out new technology, retail experts say. Some stores such as Ikea, the furniture chain founded in Sweden, use augmented reality so a shopper can see what a chair might look like in their living room.
Chat bots, preprogrammed online assistants, answer shoppers’ questions in a breezy demeanor.
“It’s not human, but they’ve been able to emulate a human so well and provide so much information to that bot, it gives the customer a very good experience if they have questions about shipping or returns,” Lewis said. “Sometimes you can’t even tell it’s a chatbot at first.”
During Cyber Monday, chatbots and deep price discounts aim toward a single goal: getting consumers to look and eventually click “buy.” (VOA)