Earlier-than-usual online deals to steal Cyber Monday thunder

By Dhanya SkariachanReuters

Earlier than usual online holiday discounts are expected to dampen today's Cyber Monday sales in the United States.

To compete with each other and powerhouse Amazon.com Inc, many U.S. retailers began offering some of the season's best online deals, which were traditionally reserved for the Monday after Thanksgiving, several days ago.

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That helped overall online sales from Thanksgiving through Sunday rise 14.5 percent in 2013 over the same period last year, data from IBM showed. But since shoppers have a limited budget, that could mean Cyber Monday might lose some luster.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Target Corp, Toys R Us, Macy's Inc, J.C. Penney Co Inc and Best Buy Co Inc were among the brick-and-mortar chains that started their online deals early.

"The earlier offering of deals online may weigh on Cyber Monday and, interestingly, some retailers are offering a worse deal on Cyber Monday than they had over the earlier period," said Nomura analyst Simeon Siegel.

A survey by America's Research Group on Monday showed 23.5 percent of shoppers plan to shop on Cyber Monday, down from 29.2 percent, a year earlier.

U.S. shoppers spent almost 3 percent less than they did a year earlier during the Thanksgiving weekend, according to the National Retail Federation data. But online sales rose 17.3 percent on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, outpacing sales growth at brick-and-mortar stores, data from comScore Inc showed.

Shares of some brick-and-mortar chains including Wal-Mart, Target, Macy's and Penney were down on Monday. Shares of Best Buy and Gap Inc, two of the top performers of the weekend according to analysts, were up. Ebay shares also rose 3.3 percent on Monday morning.

Sales at many chains are coming at a steep cost to margins along with higher store costs as the sales spread out over a greater time, analysts said.

"Wal-Mart won the weekend with its aggressive campaign; however, even with this strength, we are not sure it will translate to much in the way of sales and earnings for the full quarter," Janney Capital Markets analyst David Strasser said.

Home applicance and electronics store h.h. gregg did well, but was hit hard in the TV and mobile categories, while Best Buy did really well with mobile phone sales, Strasser said.

"Sears continued its share losing ways," he added.

Wells Fargo's Paul Lejuez said American Eagle Outfitters, Bath and Body Works, Macy's and Urban Outfitters's chain Anthropologie were standouts, while Abercrombie did not do well over the big shopping weekend.

Macy's gained from opening its stores on Thanksgiving for the first time ever, managing to draw millennial shoppers, compelling door buster deals and cold weather that helped sales of seasonal items, Sterne Agee analyst Chuck Grom said.

Among the upscale chains, Lejuez noted significant crowds at Michael Kors, but fewer people at Coach.

Some brands did not have to risk their margins to woo holiday shoppers.

"Strong brands showed less of a need to discount," Canaccord Genuity analyst Camilo Lyon said, referring to brands such as Lululemon Athletica Inc, Deckers Outdoor, Michael Kors, Steven Madden and Under Armour.

(Reporting by Dhanya Skariachan; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)