Cyber Monday: A Marketing Creation

On the Monday after Thanksgiving, retailers are keen to sell a lot of stuff. Including, it appears, the idea that there’s something inherently special about the day.

It’s a well-established tradition that the day after Thanksgiving is “Black Friday”, with many retailers (particularly of electrical goods) selling goods cheaply. While waiting in line from the early hours may seem crazy, the existence of the sales at least makes sense: many Americans who have a rare weekday holiday want to get away from relatives who’ve outstayed their welcome, and with Turkey Day over, are ready to begin the countdown to Christmas.

But the idea that Cyber Monday represents the online equivalent may be overhyped. As CNN points out today, the phrase only dates back five years and was created for use in a press release by Shop.org, a trade association of online retailers.

The only real evidence in that release of a claim was that 77% of online retailers reported a substantial increase in online sales on the day, though it wasn’t said what this was in comparison with. And the explanation for this rise? Apparently shoppers waited until they got back to work to sneak a few minutes on broadband connections in the office to do their shopping, rather than on dial-up modems at home.

That’s a kind explanation, albeit one that’s looking shakier five years of broadband take-up later. To be fair, retailers can’t really admit that any pattern is more likely a case of people being so dejected at returning to the office after four days of overindulgence that bargain hunting is more appealing than spreadsheets.

In reality, though, Cyber Monday isn’t *that* big a deal. Most of the figures touted as evidence of the day bringing an annual boost to sales are simply comparing one Cyber Monday with its predecessor, not with other days of the year.

CNN quotes internet traffic monitoring and analysis firm ComScore as saying that usually Cyber Monday is in the lower regions of the top 10 days for visits to online retailers. Last year was an exception (it placed second for the year), which appears to be a case of economic confidence being so low that people really were showing unusual levels of bargain hunting.

Of course, that they thought to do so on the Monday after Thanksgiving suggests the marketing phrase may have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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