ECONOMY

November 29, 2011

More logging on for Cyber Monday

Online version of Black Friday continues to grow

BY AVERY YALE KAMILA The Portland Press Herald

When he wasn't training recruits on the rifle range Monday, Army Sgt. Jeff Robinson was squeezing in some online holiday shopping.

click image to enlarge

READY TO SHIP: Worker Joe Perron prepares packages to be shipped Monday at the L.L. Bean warehouse in Freeport. The company says Cyber Monday is a big day for online sales.

Portland Press Herald photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

He and tens of millions of other Americans.

This Monday was Cyber Monday, the Internet equivalent of Black Friday. Always the first Monday after Thanksgiving, it's a day when online retailers typically see a bump in sales thanks to special promotions, deals and free-shipping offers.

A survey done by BIGresearch for Shop.org, which maintains the CyberMonday.com website, reported that 122.9 million Americans intended to shop Monday, up from 106.9 million last year.

"People see this as a more civilized alternative to Black Friday," said Nory Jones, an associate professor in the University of Maine's business school. "Why get in the car and fight the crowds?"

Robinson, a Saco resident who spoke by phone from Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, said he shopped online Monday morning with L.L. Bean. "I love their stuff, and everyone likes receiving L.L. Bean treasures," he said. "I'm going to do some more this afternoon."

Robinson gravitates to online shopping because of its speed and convenience. To say he has a busy schedule is an understatement: He's up at 3 a.m. and doesn't finish his workday until 10 p.m.

"Time is critical for me," he said. "I don't have a lot of it."

L.L. Bean spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said this is the first year in which the retailer is getting more orders online than by phone.

"As the business shifts from phone to online, a lot of the reps we had answering phones are now doing e-chat to answer customer questions online," Beem said.

While Beem said Dec. 12 usually brings L.L. Bean's biggest sales, she acknowledged that Cyber Monday is an important source of revenue for the company.

"It is a big day for us," Beem said. "It usually signals the launch of the peak season for us."

L.L. Bean hired about 4,700 seasonal workers this fall, with most working in customer service centers answering phones or fielding online questions.

L.L. Bean, a privately held company, does not provide specific sales figures. However, last year the company's sales increased 6 percent from the previous year. And this year, sales are "on track to beat last year," Beem said.

Topher Mallory, CEO of the Maine-based clothing and accessories chain Mexicali Blues, said the business is also having a strong year for revenue, with online sales playing a bigger role.

"We see a big spike online for Cyber Monday," Mallory said. "One trend we've noticed with Cyber Monday is, it's probably a cyber week or long weekend."

Mexicali Blues offered discounts to entice shoppers on Cyber Monday, a day when Mallory said the company's online sales double. Still, online revenue makes up less than 10 percent of the company's total sales.

"We've had great success online in the last five years," Mallory said. "But it's been the result of a lot of hard work."

That work includes making Mexicali Blues' e-commerce site easy to use and driving shoppers to the site with an array of marketing tactics.

"We're at a turning point where we're starting to see more people from out of state than in state (shopping online)," Mallory said.

Jones, at the University of Maine, sees a strong future for Cyber Monday, which was created in 2005 by a unit of The National Retail Federation.

"I think everyone's going to continue with Cyber Monday, because it's institutionalized," she said. "Hopefully, more of the smaller stores will be able to take advantage of it too."

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