Black Friday, Cyber Monday euphoria: Clicks cannibalize bricks

Lofty e-commerce growth figures may just indicate that clicks continue to cannibalize physical retail sales as the consumer spending pie remains static. You inspect at the store and then buy online.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Stories about Black Friday and Cyber Monday are a dime a dozen today. The solid data points are lining up just like those folks in the queue for that once-in-a-lifetime electronics deal, but there are a few caveats worth noting. It's quite possible that tech sales are just being pushed up and it's unclear how buying behavior will continue through December.

Meanwhile, the lofty growth figures may just indicate that e-commerce is continuing to cannibalize physical retail sales. You inspect at the store and then buy online.

Also: Roundup of Cyber Monday gadget deals

First, the data points---anecdotal and otherwise:

  • Amazon reports that its Kindle family had the best Black Friday ever and the Kindle Fire remains the best selling product on the e-commerce site. File this statement in the anecdotal category since Amazon never coughs up the real unit data.
  • ComScore says that online spending on Black Friday was up 26 percent from a year ago to $816 million. Amazon, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target and Apple were the top five retailer properties in order, according to comScore.

  • On Cyber Monday, Shop.org expects 8 out of 10 retailers will run online promotions. Last year, Cyber Monday was the heaviest day of online spending ever with sales topping $1 billion.
  • ShopperTrack reported that Black Friday sales were up 6.6 percent from a year ago based on mall foot traffic.
  • 9to5Mac reports that Apple retail stores sales were "off the charts" based on leaked inventory system data (which was whited out).
  • IBM Coremetrics found that Thanksgiving online shopping was up 39.3 percent from a year ago and Black Friday e-commerce grew at a 24.3 percent clip.
  • CoreMetrics also noted that Apple's iPhone and iPad were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 for mobile device retail traffic at 5.4 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively. PayPal also saw a mobile shopping spike.

So this data indicates it's happy days for the economy right? Not so fast. Promotions for electronics and other goods started earlier and it's likely that sales are just being moved forward. In other words, it's quite possible that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are a big bang and then consumers are done spending.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster considers the data points mixed. The Chase Paymentech data seems to indicate that sales are being moved up. ChannelAdvisor data puts e-commerce up 17 percent on Thanksgiving, 20 percent on Black Friday and 20.8 percent on Saturday. The ChannelAdvisor data indicates growth is slowing. Munster said:

We continue to believe holiday eCommerce sales are poised to gain share and post a slight acceleration in y/y growth. Overall, the weekend's data was a mixed bag with comScore and the Chase Paymentech pointing towards an acceleration of growth, while ChannelAdvisor saw a slight deceleration growth.

If you zoom out it's possible that we're seeing an ongoing shift to online sales over brick and mortar, but the larger consumer spending pie may not be growing. Not all tech boats will get a lift.

Deutsche Bank analyst Jeetil Patel noted:

We believe accelerating online share gains are being driven by convenience, improved selection, lower cost (no sales tax for most states), and increasing availability of free shipping. Black Friday weekend checks support our thesis that Amazon is positioned to capture a larger share of the online retail market owing to its low prices, large selection and fulfillment expertise. We believe that e-commerce trends will kick into high gear beginning Cyber Monday onward as shoppers convert their store visits over the weekend into online purchases.

Add it up and the initial online commerce data is upbeat, but may not be sustainable through December.

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