NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -
Cyber Monday, the online retail world's version of Black Friday, got off to a busy start as many holiday shoppers logged on at work and trolled the Internet in an effort to bag a few more bargains.
Early morning online traffic trends already indicated a sharp spike in the North America region, said Jennifer Donovan, spokeswoman for online business solutions provider Akamai.
The Cambridge, Mass. -based company Monday launched the Akamai Net Usage Index for retail, which monitors aggregate Web traffic to over 100 U.S.-based online sellers, including etoys.com, Overstock.com, jcpenney.com and Circuitcity.com.
According to the index, total North American traffic by visitors per minute on Cyber Monday was up 35 percent from normal traffic trends for a Monday, according to Donovan. As of 11:40 a.m. ET, the sites tracked were drawing nearly 1.63 million visitors per minute.
"We're hitting new peaks before the West Coast has even logged on," Donovan said. "Today's traffic should peak about 4 p.m. (ET) If this pace continues, it leads us to believe that this could be a very big day for online merchants."
A 2005 eHoliday survey from Shop.org/BizRate Research last week showed that 43 percent of online retailers -- and even a few brick-and mortar retailers with an online presence -- plan to offer special promotions and discounts, ranging from free shipping to gifts with purchase intended to boost traffic to their Web sites.
Electronics chain CompUSA's one-day Cyber Monday sale includes a 17-inch LCD monitor for under $180 and 10-inch portable DVD players for less than $230. Chocolatier Godiva is hoping to tempt shoppers with a free gift when they make an online purchase.
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More than one-third of the 1,891 consumers who were also polled for the Shop.org report said they will use Internet access at work where they have faster Internet connections to buy their gifts this holiday season.
"Once the parades have ended and the leftovers are put away, many consumers will find a few precious hours to get a jump-start on the holidays by shopping online," said Chuck Davis, chairman of online comparison shopping Web site Shopzilla, said in the report. "This year, retailers will be reminding shoppers that even though their stores may be closed, their Web sites are always open."
Buying jewelry, electronics
Among the most-shopped categories last year on Cyber Monday were jewelry, consumer electronics, gourmet food, furniture and home décor, the report said.
Market research firm ComScore Networks expects total holiday online spending, excluding travel, for the two key months of November and December to jump 24 percent over last year to $19 billion. On Black Friday alone, ComScore said consumers spent $305 million online, which was up 22 percent versus last year.
Cyber Monday online sales in 2004 came in at $380 million, the firm said. That represented a 29 percent hike over 2003.
Separately, market research firm Nielsen NetRatings said Monday that traffic to online shopping sites grew 29 percent over last year on Black Friday.
The fastest growing product categories were toys, video games, consumer electronics and computer hardware and software.
"While many shoppers headed out to the stores over the weekend, the majority first turned to the Internet to check prices and product availability," Heather Dougherty, senior retail analyst with Nielsen NetRatings, said in a statement.
Online auctioneer eBay was the top online retailer on Black Friday, the report said, with 9.5 million unique visitors, followed by Amazon.com, with 4.6 million and walmart.com which drew 3.4 million.
Target.com. at 2.9 million unique visitors, and BestBuy.com, at 2.1 million, rounded out the top five online shopping destinations, Nielsen NetRatings said.
"Now that the 2005 holiday shopping season is underway, traffic to retail sites will climb as shoppers head back to work on Monday ready to make headway on their holiday shopping lists," Dougherty said. "Cyber Monday will bring additional growth in traffic for online retailers by luring shoppers to their sites through sales promotions and free shipping incentives."
Strong start on Black Friday. But will the pace hold?
Retailers saw a stellar kickoff to the holiday season as Thanksgiving weekend sales jumped 22 percent to nearly $28 billion, the National Retail Federation said Sunday.
The strong numbers should come as a welcome relief to stores worried about a sluggish start to the holiday shopping season on Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, so called since it's when many retailers start moving into the black for the year.
The average shopper spent an estimated $302.81 over the weekend, the NRF report said.
"As expected, retailers offered substantial discounts and savings on Black Friday to bring people into their stores and consumers held up their end of the bargain by shopping," NRF president and CEO Tracy Mullin said in a statement.
The group said that more than 60 million shoppers headed to the stores on Black Friday, up 7.9 percent from last year.
Another 52.8 million shopped Saturday, up 13.3 percent, and another 22 million were expected to be out Sunday, about in line with the turnout last year, the NRF said.
However, retail research group ShopperTrak said Monday that the holiday season's first two big shopping days got off to a relatively flat start compared to a strong 2004, despite special promotions, discounts and expanded hours.
Data from ShopperTrak showed combined Black Friday and Saturday sales were down 0.5 percent from a year ago to $13.4 billion.
"Although some discounting may have slowed the early pace of sales, the industry can expect to see much healthier sales patterns as we move into December and closer to both Christmas and the annually strong Saturday before Christmas retail boom," Michael Niemira, chief economist and director of research for the International Council of Shopping Centers, said in the ShopperTrak report.
Retailers see a strong start to the holiday shopping season. Click here for more.
Who were the Black Friday winners and losers? Click here to find out.
For tips on hot holiday gifts and how much to tip this season, click here.