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RETAIL-WATCHERS SPEAK
OF “BLACK FRIDAY”—BUT IN
A GOOD WAY
Internet Shopping Surges, as MP3 Players, Specifically Apple’s, Top Electronic Gift Lists
“Black Friday,” that fearsome day of reckoning for soulless financial sharks and other ne’er-do-wells, immortalized in song by Steely Dan lo these many years ago—that’s not what retail researchers are talking about this time of year.

No, “Black Friday” actually means something good to these people: It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and as the traditional busiest shopping day of the year, and for many retailers, it represents the first day their operations show a profit for the year. That’s “black” as in “black ink.” See?

That said, this year’s Black Friday ran pretty much a dead heat with last year’s figures for people with actual stores for customers to walk around in, but it was a very different story for online retailers, who saw traffic to their destinations jump by 29%, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, which monitors a panel of 100 Internet stores to gather data. These sites logged 17.2 million unique visitors Friday, up from 13.3 million in 2004.

eBay was the runaway winner, with 9.5 million visitors, followed by Amazon at 4.6 million and Wal-Mart.com at 3.4 million. The rest of the Top 5 included Target.com with 2.9 million and BestBuy.com with 2.1 million. U.S. consumers spent $305 million online on Friday, representing a 22% increase over year-ago figures, according to research firm ComScore Networks.

But these days, “Black Friday” doesn’t tell the whole story of the strength of the kickoff to the holiday shopping season. To do that, you need to look at “Cyber Monday,” which, despite its obvious 21st-century blues appeal, has yet to be the title of a Steely Dan song.

“Cyber Monday” refers to the time when all those turkey-stuffed shoppers who either surfed the Web or actually went to the mall over the holiday weekend return to work and get down to the serious business of using their employers’ high-speed Internet connections to buy the rest of the stuff they didn’t get to over the weekend.

A complete picture of Cyber Monday activity hasn’t yet been put together by researchers, but an informal survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal points to an exceptionally robust period of activity. If only employers charged their employees for bandwidth. Hey, wait a minute!

Apparel company Timberland, working a special one-day promotion, saw traffic to its site jump 87% and revenue for the day soar 137% compared to a year ago, the Journal says. Other stores experienced similar results.

Outlet site Overstock.com saw traffic increase 80% compared to three months ago, and sales jump 20% compared to Friday, the paper says. Similarly, online book, music and movie retailer Alibris.com said its sales Monday looked like they would be 50% better than last year.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that MP3 players, which didn’t even make the Top 10 last year, are this year’s most-desired electronic gift, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Indeed, MP3 players beat both digital cameras and video games (including Microsoft’s coveted Xbox 360) this time out.

With 70% of the MP3 player market, Apple and the monster success of its iPod line has obviously had a lot to do with the surge in demand for portable players. So Cnet.com VP of online shopping Dan Miller told the Times, uttering the magical words, “Apple has made it into a Walkman.”

Just for perspective, RCA is currently the second-best selling brand of MP3 player, commanding 7% of the market.
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