By Alexandria Sage
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Early discounts may have taken some of the shine off Cyber Monday but the key online holiday shopping day is still expected to attract bargain hunters who may not have had their fill over the weekend.
Cyber Monday -- a term coined five years ago for the day many people return to work after Thanksgiving and make online gift purchases on their computers -- remains a prime shopping day online. But its novelty has now been partially eclipsed by e-commerce promotions earlier in the season, including on Thanksgiving itself.
Retailers from BestBuy.com to Walmart.com and Staples.com have even opted to offer Cyber Monday deals one day early, on newly coined "Cyber Sunday."
John Thompson, senior vice president and general manager of BestBuy.com, said Cyber Monday remains a "really viable marketing concept," but smart retailers must offer choice.
"There's demand out there, but you have consumers spending their time differently," he said. "If you don't have one group that shops early, you'll have those who say 'I'll enjoy my Thanksgiving and those same deals or as-good deals will be there Cyber Monday.'"
Marketing firms say tactics have changed in luring consumers to buy online. Whereas in prior years a full email inbox of online deals awaited those back at work on Monday, the offers now increasingly come on Black Friday if not before.
Disneystore.com, for one, had a "record sales day" on Thanksgiving, according to Jim Fielding, president of Disney Stores.
U.S. online sales were up 33 percent on Thanksgiving this year, according to web analytics firm IBM Coremetrics.
Just as many promotions are sent via email on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, as on Cyber Monday, according to Responsys. And half of retailers planned to send email on Cyber Sunday as well as on Thanksgiving, the interactive marketing firm found.
PayPal, the online payments unit of eBay, said its first holiday spike in payment volume came on November 15. On Black Friday, total payment volume, or the total value of goods sold, rose 27 percent versus last year.
Online deals will continue throughout the holiday season. Amazon.com, the largest online retailer, said its Black Friday deals would last all week, while Target.com and eBay have set up daily deals through December.
Despite the e-commerce selling season that now extends before and after Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving is still a prime focus of retailers.
Nine out of ten retailers planned to offer a promotion for Cyber Monday, Shop.org and BIGresearch found in a survey. That was more than the nearly three-quarters of respondents in 2007.
"Retailers have built it into the consumers mind: 'Here's the day you'll get the best deal,'" said IBM Coremetrics' Chief Strategy Officer John Squire.
Although some experts say the top online sales comes later in the season -- analytics firm Comscore, for one, found 2009's heaviest spending day fell on Dec 13 -- Squire said Cyber Monday was the best-performing day, with a 30 percent jump in U.S. online sales.
"You will see a similar type of gain on Cyber Monday (this year)," said Squire. "The big treat is what happens on Cyber Sunday for those retailers who give those deals."
Bullishness in advance of Monday was evident as Amazon shares closed at an all-time high last Wednesday leading into the Thanksgiving weekend, accompanied by options trading at over twice the average daily level.
On Tuesday, comScore raised its forecast for U.S. online holiday spending for the second time, saying it now expects an 11 percent rise over the 2009 holiday.
The new spending outlook should bring total holiday e-commerce spending to $32.4 billion, comScore said.
Online sales, while still growing, make up a mere 7 percent of the overall U.S. retail pie, according to comScore.
(Reporting by Alexandria Sage; editing by Todd Eastham)