Cyber Monday 2016 is now just a month away! Until 2014, Cyber Monday was the world's biggest online sales day.
It's the day when people realise "Oh no! It's nearly Christmas!" and log on to their favorite online shops, but in 2014 Cyber Monday was eclipsed in the UK by another visitor from the US: Black Friday, which takes place three days before.
The same pattern emerged in 2015, with Black Friday eclipsing Cyber Monday once again - but in the US it was the opposite, with Cyber Monday sales making Black Friday look like a garage sale. What does that mean for Cyber Monday 2016?
When is Cyber Monday 2016, and what is it anyway?
This year, Cyber Monday will fall on the 28th of November. The Monday immediately after the US Thanksgiving weekend was chosen deliberately by marketers, who wanted to find a way to replicate and benefit from the real-world sales frenzy of Black Friday.
Black Friday is famous for "doorbuster" deals, heavy discounting that's guaranteed to draw big crowds, and Cyber Monday promises to do the same online.
The term was first used in a press release for the US National Retail Federation's Shop.org website back in 2005. The press release was based on some pretty vague numbers - it noted that 77% of online retailers had reported a "substantial" sales increase compared to the previous year, without actually saying what that increase was - but it became a self-fulfilling prophecy as retailers began running specific Cyber Monday promotions.
Cyber Monday 2005 saw a 26% increase in online sales compared to the same day in 2004, and bar the odd recessionary blip the trend has continued ever since. That's partly because of the date - for many people it's just after the last monthly pay packet before Christmas - and partly because of increasingly intense media focus, with what seems like every single site on the entire internet running guides to the best Cyber Monday and Black Friday deals. And yes, that includes us: our website stats tell us that the two sales events are of huge interest to huge numbers of people.
From Cyber Monday to Cyber Week
One of the trends we've seen in the last couple of years is the blurring of the lines between Black Friday and Cyber Monday: with almost every bricks and mortar retailer online, Black Friday moved online too - and in order to stand out many retailers, such as Amazon, turned Black Friday and Cyber Monday into a long weekend or even a week of discounting.
Stuart McClure is the founder of Love The Sales, which tracks sale items across the UK's major retailers. "There is definitely a blurring of the lines - and not just in the two named days," he told TechRadar. "We saw numerous retailers offering many sale items in the run up to Black Friday, and there were actually more deals to be had in that week."
There are still significant differences between Cyber Monday and Black Friday, though. Analysis by Ve Interactive found that the sales uplift from Black Friday - that is, the increase in sales compared to a normal shopping day - rose from 62% in 2014 to 223% in 2015, while the uplift for Cyber Monday went from 42% to 139%.
"There is definitely an uplift of activity on the two specific days," McClure says, "but the whole period sees significant uplift."
The uplift was reported Visa Europe, who registered a 25% increase in Black Friday sales over 2014; John Lewis, who reported an 11.9% uplift on the Friday, and Experian-IMRG, which had UK Black Friday sales of £1.1 billion, a year on year increase of more than one third.
However, some retailers had a better Monday than Friday: Amazon's US Cyber Monday revenues were up 21.1%, and comScore reported that online sales on Cyber Monday in the US were $2.28 billion compared to Black Friday's $1.6 billion. If you include mobile, total online Cyber Monday sales in the US were $3.1 billion.
Ve interactive found that during the Cyber Weekend shoppers were less likely to abandon their shopping carts without buying: while the average abandonment rate in 2015 was 85%, that fell to 71.1% on Black Friday.
Cyber Monday fell too, but not by the same amount: its abandonment rate was 80.1%, an increase over the previous year.
As Ve's Kate Rogerson explains, "whilst it is impossible to pin-point the exact cause of this, it may well be a reflection of customer thinking. If they are happy to wait three days till Monday to make a purchase, then they may be looking for a more specific product or deal and so are more likely to browse more thoroughly across many sites."
Whether we're buying on Black Friday, Cyber Monday or the days in between it's clear that the Cyber Weekend or Cyber Week represents a huge volume of sales. But are retailers getting that volume at the expense of their profits? For some organisations it certainly seems that way.
Is Cyber Monday a con?
Retail analysts have found no evidence that Cyber Monday and Black Friday stimulate demand; rather, they appear to make our Christmas shopping happen earlier.
As a result many retailers decided not to take part in the 2015 discount frenzy, and we can expect similar refuseniks for Cyber Monday 2016. Then again, many big name retailers have already stuffed their websites with Cyber Monday 2016 pages to keep them high in the search engines, so there should still be plenty of bargains around.
What kind of bargains will they be?
"One thing most people do not realise is that the volume of offers available on the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend doesn't increase," Stuart McClure told Techradar. "What does increase is the marketing spend by the retailers, and some of the really big offers they put out."
The actual number of discounted items doesn't change, though. "We have data going back a long time that shows that 15% of all retail products are reduced in price almost every day of the year. This can rise during big sales periods, but those are mainly Boxing Day and end of season sales - not the Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend."
There are still bargains to be had, but "it really depends on the product," McClure says. While fashion is generally a safe bet - retailers are keen to move stock before Christmas - other sectors often buy in products specifically for the Black Friday / Cyber Monday period.
Tech can be particularly confusing. "Many retailers have wheeled out old stock or models that have been superseded by newer versions, and selling them at what looks like an amazing bargain… it's important to be cautious."
Unfortunately for consumers, the mad panic around Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2014, when retailers - especially UK ones - went a bit mad and started discounting things just to be part of the sales frenzy, is unlikely to be repeated: the discounts you'll see at the end of November will come from supplier deals being negotiated right now, retailers shifting end-of line stock, carefully planned cross-selling/upselling opportunities and the kind of pricing where the RRP shoots up for a month so it can then say "SAVE XXX!" on the sticker on Cyber Monday.
There will still be bargains out there, but as with any big sale some deals will be significantly sweeter than others. Come back to TechRadar in November and we'll guide you towards the big bargains and away from the dud deals!