Is the Fuss over Cyber Monday and Black Friday Misplaced?

Wharton marketing professor Peter S. Fader acknowledges that retailers need to manufacture special events now and then to drum up sales. But the attention paid to Black, Friday and Cyber Monday by the media and the retailers themselves "is perverse," he says.

Last weekend we learned that U.S. brick-and-mortar retailers had more sales on Black Friday this year than they did on Black Friday in 2008. But their sales revenues were down because of deep discounts. Today, The Wall Street Journal and others tell us that while individual shoppers were spending less than they did last year on Cyber Monday — which has been incorrectly christened by online retailers and the media as biggest online shopping day of the holiday season — there were enough people shopping online this year that overall sales were higher than last year. At 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, according to Coremetrics, a firm that tracks online sales for 500 U.S. retailers, web shoppers had spent 11% more than they did a year ago by that time, even though the average purchases were down nearly 14%.

The fact that so much attention is paid to the data, and that the two days are treated as discrete events annoys Fader, co-director of the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative. Treating the two days separately "is a great big step backward," says Fader. "Ten years ago, people were talking about these days as being different. But lately, the two of them have been blending together," which he says is how they should be views, "It's all just retailing." Whether consumers purchase something in a brick-and-mortar store or online with a computer or smart phone, the outcome is the same: Revenue is generated for retailers and consumers get to control over their shopping strategies, says Fader.

But that sense of control is disrupted by the efforts of retailers to "invent all this crazed demand. Shoppers want to be in control, they want to do a little online shopping here, a little [smartphone] shopping there, and maybe step into a store when it's convenient. Retailers can manufacture cyber this or black that, but in the end, consumers are not going to be bullied into any one's schedule but their own."

Indeed, Cyber Monday which falls on the first Monday after Black Friday, typically is not the busiest online shopping day. Last year, December 9 was the busiest day for online shopping, according to web traffic measuring firm ComScore. And while Black Friday may be the biggest brick-and-mortar shopping day of the year, it is not necessarily a predictor of sales for the overall season. Wharton marketing professor Stephen J. Hoch, who directs the Jay H. Baker Retailing Initiative, tells KnowledgeToday that his forecast for the holiday shopping season remains unchanged from what it was last month: "This year will be a little better than last year as we continue to slog along."


Peter Fader discusses Cyber Monday on American Public Media's Marketplace