Holiday Shopping: Will Cyber Monday Outshine Black Friday?

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Black Friday was no bust. Retail sales turned out to be far stronger than predicted, rising by nearly 7% compared with last year’s day-after-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza. Finishing off the holiday weekend that’s all about consumption—first, in terms of turkey, and later on, shopping—is the e-commerce spectacular, Cyber Monday. Nearly every retailer with an online presence will host special promotions or discounts, and the rise in sales is expected to surpass even that of Black Friday.

Black Friday wasn’t expected to have a banner year in 2011, with sales expected to rise by a mere 1.6% compared with 2010. But, thanks in part to the midnight openings by many national retailers, shopping centers such as Minnesota’s Mall of America broke records for total visitor numbers on Friday. The retail-data consultant ShopperTrak estimates that total sales hit $11.4 billion, a rise of 6.6% compared with Black Friday 2010. Foot traffic at malls, meanwhile, grew by an impressive 5.1%.

An even bigger rise in sales is expected for Cyber Monday. According to comScore data, e-commerce thus far in November is up 14% compared with last year’s—$9.67 billion vs. $8.47 billion in 2010. Online shopping for all of November and December of this year is expected to be up 15% compared with that in 2010.

Last year, Cyber Monday sales increased by 20%, topping $1 billion for the first time. Strong growth is expected for online sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving 2011 as well: market-research firm IBISWorld predicts a 12.4% increase in online purchases on Cyber Monday this year.

(MORE: Will Extended Black Friday Hours Actually Increase Sales?)

Why are more and more shoppers making purchases online? For one thing, a larger swath of consumers is finally comfortable with the concept of sending credit-card numbers out over the “Interweb.” Online shoppers used to overwhelmingly young. Now, though, as a Deloitte holiday survey points out, the age gap has mostly disappeared: consumers ages 18 to 24 say they’ll do, on average, 32% of their holiday shopping online this year, while consumers ages 45 and older will shop online for nearly the same percentage (30%) of holiday purchases.

Shopping online is also, quite obviously, more convenient than heading to the mall—no crowds, no lines at the register, no traffic and clogged parking lots to contend with and no worries about a store’s hours or an item being sold out.

Perhaps most importantly, shoppers are also turning online in huge numbers because that’s where they think they’ll find the best prices. The National Retail Federation says that nearly 8 in 10 (78.4%) of online retailers will offer special promotions on Cyber Monday, and 92.2% of these retailers say they’ll host special online deals at some point over Thanksgiving weekend.

(MORE: Think Black Friday Has the Cheapest Prices? Think Again)

In another survey, conducted on the behalf of Ebates, the top answer consumers gave for shopping online for the holidays is that this is where the best prices and deals are (64%), followed by the ideas that shopping at home is more convenient (57%) and is a simple way to avoid crowds (47%).

After splurging with in-store Black Friday sales, however, will shoppers still have the desire (not to mention cash) to push Cyber Monday sales to the next level? We’ll all know soon enough.

Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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