U.S. shoppers head to the Web on the Monday after Thanksgiving, a day that has become known as "Cyber Monday," but retailers say peak online shopping is coming later and later in the season as shipping improves.
Web retailers anticipate another surge on Cyber Monday this year, the day people return to work after the Thanksgiving wekend and take advantage of fast Internet connections at the office to shop and browse online.
"You see a dramatic shift on that day, but it builds and peaks for us two weeks later," said Dan Gerler, chief executive of shoe retailer Onlineshoes.com.
"Cyber Monday," on Nov. 27 this year, follows "Black Friday" — the day after Thanksgiving — which is the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, when stores launch major promotions to attract shoppers. "Black Friday" is the day retailers are said to finally start making a profit, or go into the black, for the year.
In recent years, peak online shopping days have started getting closer to Christmas, as express shipping becomes faster, more popular and cheaper, allowing procrastinators to wait in the knowledge that gifts can still be delivered in time.
"You're seeing the difference between the shipping deadlines and the (shopping) peaks come closer and closer to Christmas," said Heather Dougherty, an analyst at Nielsen/Net Ratings.
Market research firm comScore says Dec. 12 or 13 tends to be when most online dollars are spent.
Last year, online shoppers spent $556 million on Dec. 12, compared with $485 million spent on Cyber Monday, which was the ninth-heaviest shopping day. Shoppers spent $305 million online on the Friday after Thanksgiving, comScore said.
ComScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni said the allure of shopping at work is still pervasive, even though nearly three-quarters of U.S. households now have broadband. Half of all online shopping is done from work, he said.
Apparel and sporting goods retailer L.L. Bean expects more than half a million Internet orders the second Monday in December, its projected busiest day, and a week after Cyber Monday.
This holiday season marks the first year the catalog-based company expects online orders will outpace retail and catalog orders, said spokesman Rich Donaldson.
Overall, Forrester Research expects a 23 percent rise in online sales, to $27 billion, this holiday season.
"The main reason people buy online, especially during the holiday, is convenience," said Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru. "They don't want to go to the stores and face the crowds."
Web retailers also flood inboxes across the country with promotional e-mails on Cyber Monday, said Nielsen/Net Ratings' Dougherty.
Although toy e-retailers start to promote the hottest new toys before Cyber Monday, many cross-channel retailers make sure their promotions mirror those in malls during the Thanksgiving weekend, said Forrester's Mulpuru.
ComScore's Fulgoni said that multichannel retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. Inc. are becoming increasingly more aggressive online as shoppers are barraged with Web choices.
"I think they realize in a world where you have search and comparison shopping engines, they have got to be players online, otherwise they are really risking some lost business."
Last year, eBay Inc. was the Cyber Monday winner in terms of site visitors, according to the research firm. EBay saw 11.7 million unique visitors, compared with Amazon.com at less than a half that and Wal-Mart's Web site at about a fourth of eBay's traffic.