For Internet Retailers, It's 'Cyber Monday'

Brick-and-mortar retailers celebrated a boost in business on "Black Friday" last week, the day when shoppers move from Thanksgiving cleanup into holiday shopping mode. But for online merchants, Monday is the real kickoff of the holiday shopping season.

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On Mondays, we focus on technology, and today opting for cyberspace over parking spaces. Cautiously optimistic retailers are forecasting a 6 percent increase in holiday sales this year, but many Internet retailers are expecting much bigger gains. For online merchants, today is the real kickoff for the holiday shopping season. NPR's Scott Horsley explains.

SCOTT HORSLEY reporting:

The Village Hat Shop bills itself as the busiest all-purpose hat store on the Internet. Owner Fred Belinsky and his staff sell about $2 million worth of hats every year from this small store in San Diego, everything from Easter bonnets to Viking helmets.

Mr. FRED BELINSKY (The Village Hat Shop): We sell everything and anything that goes on a head.

HORSLEY: Belinsky, who prefers a fedora himself, says while the hat business was traditionally marked by the straw season and the felt season, the holiday season is becoming especially important.

Mr. BELINSKY: This'll be our ninth holiday on the Internet, so what used to be some kind of a novelty is now a mature business.

HORSLEY: And when it comes to Internet hat sales, the Monday after Thanksgiving stands head and shoulders above the previous Friday. That's typical for many online merchants. While brick-and-mortar retailers celebrated a boost in business on Black Friday last week, Internet sales don't really heat up until today. That's why Scott Silverman, with the trade group shop.org, calls this Cyber Monday.

Mr. SCOTT SILVERMAN (shop.org): What generally will happen is that people will go out the Friday after Thanksgiving with friends and family. They'll probably get a lot of good ideas, and then on Monday, when they're back at work with their high-speed connection, they're ready to go shopping online.

HORSLEY: According to a shop.org survey, shopping from one's work computer is especially popular among younger people, more than half of whom plan to do some Internet browsing on the job this holiday season. Men are more likely than women to shop the Internet at work, but Silverman says women are bigger Internet shoppers overall.

Mr. SILVERMAN: We're now seeing categories like home furnishings, cosmetics, health and beauty products, that are some of the strongest growers in online retail.

HORSLEY: With the growth of online shopping come some words of advice from security experts. Tim Callan of VeriSign Security Services says shoppers should check Web sites for customer service contacts and security symbols, like a padlock in the lower right corner. Callan also suggests using care in responding to unsolicited e-mail come-ons.

Mr. TIM CALLAN (VeriSign Security Services): Be sure that who you're communicating with is who you think you're communicating with. And in general, if things look fishy, they probably are fishy.

HORSLEY: Shop.org, which is part of the National Retail Federation, says many online retailers are offering holiday specials this year, such as two-for-one discounts and free shipping. As shipping's become more reliable, online retailers have been able to stretch their holiday business deeper into December. Fred Belinsky says sales at The Village Hat Shop peaked around December 16th last year, one day later than the year before. Every day of extra business, though, means extra pressure, making sure that all the hats get under the trees where they belong.

Mr. BELINSKY: It's extremely important that we get the hats out that the people want in a timely fashion, or all of the hard work and marketing that we do is going to be for naught.

HORSLEY: Belinsky even had some staffers working Thanksgiving Day, so as sales pick up this morning, he won't be starting with a backlog.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.

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