Did Cyber Monday turn out to be more myth than reality?

Adam Pawlus, director of merchandising at Entertainment Earth Inc., an online vendor of licensed movie and TV collectibles in North Hollywood, expects holiday season sales to be slightly higher than last year. But nothing special for Nov. 30.

“Cyber Monday is like Bigfoot. People claim to see it, but it’s more a creation of the media and the marketing people,” Pawlus said.

He expects strong sales to be spread across the Thanksgiving weekend, including post-holiday Monday.

“It’s a popular day but that whole weekend does great for us,” he said.

The story is the same when talking to other e-commerce companies and experts in Los Angeles about the Monday after Thanksgiving, which has been dubbed Cyber Monday as the online equivalent of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the biggest shopping day for brick-and-mortar retailers.

But this year, gift buyers will either do their shopping earlier than Nov. 30 or they will do it later in the season, when sellers discount prices to move merchandise off shelves.

“We see a surge on that day, because a lot of people shop at work, but the reality is people begin shopping online as early as Thanksgiving Day,” said Laura Conrad, chief executive of PriceGrabber.com LLC, a comparison shopping site based in Westwood. “It’s kind of a boring holiday after the meal, so people go online.”

Industry numbers show Cyber Monday sales grew significantly in recent years: $608 million in 2006, up 26 percent over 2005; $733 million in 2007, up 21 percent; and $846 million, up 15 percent. However BDO Seidman’s Retail Compass Survey estimates Cyber Monday 2009 sales will increase only 1.8 percent compared with 2008.

Desperate gifting

At Entertainment Earth, Pawlus believes that many shoppers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday are buying stuff for themselves. The heavy gift-buying happens later in December as people grow desperate to check names off their list.

PriceGrabber’s holiday report showed that 52 percent of holiday shoppers started buying gifts in October or earlier this year, up from previous years. Retailers, both off- and online, have contributed to that trend by offering promotions earlier in the season.

Pawlus said his site started its Thanksgiving sale Nov. 16, earlier than ever before. “There’s no reason to wait because people want to buy now.”

Conrad foresees a slight increase in online buying this holiday season because “people are looking to save a buck more than ever this year.” Discounts are easier to find on the Web because the e-tailers don’t have to carry the inventory of mall stores, and often have larger selections. And the bankruptcy of specialty retailers such as Circuit City, Kaybee Toys, Media Play and others may be pushing more shoppers online, Pawlus and Conrad both said, because some items may be easier to find in cyberspace than out in the real world.

Tempering the popularity of online shopping is the weak economy, said Erlend Wilhelmsen, chief executive of online marketing agency Fabric Interactive in Los Angeles. The shrinkage in the credit card market particularly affects online shopping because plastic is the main form of payment.

“The real concern is that many consumers’ credit is maxed out,” he said. “Credit cards don’t distinguish between traditional retail and online.”

The most popular items that Conrad sees moving through PriceGrabber are

clothing, jewelry, sports equipment and small kitchen appliances. One sector that appears weak compared with previous years is electronics, but Conrad suspects shoppers are waiting for deep discounts as the Christmas deadline approaches.

Edward and Bella

At Entertainment Earth, the most popular items are Edward and Bella action figures from the “Twilight” films, and a bobble-head doll of Dexter, the serial killer from the Showtime TV series of the same name.

It was widely believed that shoppers visited malls on Black Friday to check prices, then went online on Cyber Monday to buy the stuff. But Conrad said that people are starting their Internet comparison shopping earlier.

She believes that shopping by mobile phone is the future of retailing. Consumers will walk into a store, call up a Web site on their phone and decide on the spot whether to make the purchase online or in the store.

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