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Shoppers Opened Their Wallets on Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday, the day after the Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S., lived up to its reputation for big online retail sales, triggering disproportionately high spending during this so far modest holiday shopping season.

U.S. shoppers spent 15 percent more than on last year's Cyber Monday, a boon to online retailers that are facing a muted holiday season with spending expected to be flat compared with 2007, comScore said Wednesday.

The surge in spending began on Thanksgiving Day -- last Thursday -- with a 6 percent increase over 2007, followed by a modest 1 percent increase the next day, Black Friday, and a robust 19 percent rise during Saturday and Sunday, comScore said.

The US$846 million spent on Cyber Monday represents the second heaviest online spending day on record, comScore said. Overall, spending grew 13 percent between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Unfortunately, some large retailers may have been unable to fully capitalize on this spending boost because their Web sites buckled under heavy traffic. Some that faced significant problems at some point between Friday and Monday included Sears, Bloomingdale's, Victoria's Secret, Staples, Costco and J. Crew, according to various reports from industry observers, shoppers and Web site monitoring companies.

For example, between 6 a.m. and midnight U.S. Eastern Time on Black Friday, Sears' Web site had availability of 61.90 percent, meaning that out of every 100 shoppers, 38 were unable to complete a purchase, according to Web site monitoring company Gomez. Sears acknowledged the problem.

Staples had availability of 83.64 percent on Friday and of 88.32 percent on Monday, Gomez said. However, a Staples spokesman downplayed the problem, saying via e-mail: "Our customers may have experienced a slight slow-down in page download times during our peak volumes over a two-hour period on Cyber Monday but we do not see any time where our customers were unable to complete their online purchase." Bloomingdale's, Victoria's Secret, Costco and J. Crew haven't responded to requests for comment.

Between Nov. 1 and Dec. 1 -- the first 31 days of the holiday shopping season -- U.S. residents spent $12.03 billion in online retail sales, a drop of 2 percent compared with the corresponding period last year, according to comScore.

Big discounts and attractive promotions prompted U.S. shoppers to open their wallets, at a time when many of them are curbing spending due to the widespread economic woes that have affected their jobs, real estate values and retirement accounts.

Although U.S. shoppers spent 9 percent more in online retail purchases during the first 10 months of 2008, compared with the same period in 2007, comScore forecasts that spending during the holiday season -- November and December -- will be flat, matching the $29.2 billion of 2007's holidays.

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