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What Really Happened on Cyber Monday? Separating the News From the Hype


Online sales set a record last weekend, as expected. But there are some real news tidbits buried in the avalanche of numbers.

The hype leading up to Cyber Monday was so over-the-top that it's hard to find an adjective grandiose enough to describe the result. How about colossal?

Okay, Cyber Monday sales were colossal. Online sales for the day are expected to hit $1.2 billion, topping last year's $1.03 billion, according to early estimates by Web data tracker comScore. Overall, sales for the day appeared to be exceeding last year's by 15%, according to midafternoon estimates from Coremetrics, an ecommerce analytics arm of IBM.

All good news, but let's face it: We'd have been shocked and dismayed if the numbers hadn't exceeded last year's.

More notably, Black Friday sales online were up 26% over last year's numbers. Part of that was pure marketing, since many sites started their holiday promotions early. But it also suggests a wider adoption of online shopping as an alternative to brick-and-mortar retail.

And there are other items of interest in the vast stream of coverage of the opening weekend of the holiday shopping season. Below are a few of them.

Mobile Shopping Goes Mainstream: These numbers really are colossal. The volume of transactions made via PayPal Mobile, owned by eBay (EBAY), was up 516% on Black Friday over last year's figure. The number of mobile shoppers also multiplied, by 371%.

The numbers for Thanksgiving Day also are impressive. GSI Commerce, an e-commerce services firm, said US mobile sales on Thursday were up 345%, while total spending via eBay Mobile doubled.

All of these figures are a bit vague, since none of the above reported actual dollars or even numbers of shoppers, but triple-digit growth has a good ring to it. And there's plenty of room for growth: Mobile sales still make up fewer than 8% of all online sales.

Cheaper Is Better: Well, duh! Retailers having hammered home the message that Cyber Monday was bargain day, consumers went looking for bargains. An Apple (AAPL) iPad2 discounted to $449 sold out in less than two hours on eBay. Amazon's (AMZN) "Lightning Deals" section even rigged up a "waitlist" for shoppers who want to be alerted if someone abandoned a transaction in the cart.

So, from the investor's viewpoint, the real health of the holiday season is still an unknown. Will retailers be forced to keep giving stuff away to keep shoppers clicking through the holiday season?

Amazon Rules: The top online retailers on Black Friday were Amazon, Walmart (WMT), Best Buy (BBY), Target (TGT), and Apple, in that order, according to comScore data. But Amazon was way in the lead, at least in the sheer number of visitors to its site, logging 56% more unique impressions than any of its rivals.

Amazon stock was up more than 6% for the day after Monday's rally. Investors apparently were focused on another upbeat though incomplete statistic: The company reported that its new Kindle Fire tablet was the top-selling item on the entire site, and that four times as many Kindle devices overall were sold than last year. Separately, Target reported that the Kindle Fire outsold the Apple iPad in its stores. Specific sales numbers were not released by either retailer.

There's Apple, and Not-Apple: Electronics was the most popular single category for online shoppers throughout the period, and eBay's list of most popular product search terms makes it clear that the Apple has not lost its luster. The top four electronics searches on Black Friday were for various products from Apple, Apple, Apple, and Apple.

Rounding out the list of brand-name winners were the Xbox 360 from Microsoft (MSFT); the Playstation 3 from Sony (SNE); the Kindle Fire; tablets that use Google (GOOG) Android software, and the Nintendo Wii.

Classics Count: The top fashion brand name of the season, at least as suggested by the number of searches entered on eBay, is Coach (COH). Nike (NKE) and Ralph Lauren (RL) were among other brand winners on Black Friday.

And speaking of classics, the most-searched-for toy of the season, at least as of Black Friday, was the decidedly low-tech Lego Star Wars. This may be in part because of the huge range of available items, from a single Jar Jar Binks mini-figure for $3 to an entire Millennium Falcon in-a-box for thousands.

What happens next? Well, Cyber Monday has officially been extended into Cyber Week by many retailers. After that, retailers online and off expect a bit of a lull until late December, when the procrastinators start panicking.

Web Weekly in Brief:

Facebook IPO Watch
The unofficial countdown to a Facebook initial public offering in 2012 has begun, with a report in The Wall Street Journal online. Quoting anonymous sources, the report says a date between April and June 2012 is being considered for its launch as a public company. Facebook is said to be "exploring" a $10 billion figure for the amount it expects to raise in the offering.

The Journal notes that would make the Facebook IPO one of the four biggest launches ever for a US company, along with Visa (V), the post-bankruptcy General Motors (GM), and AT&T Wireless (T).

Officially, nobody at Facebook has ever acknowledged that the company is even contemplating an IPO.

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