The clock strikes midnight and the doors burst open. A crowd of people rush in, many of whom camped outside to hold their place in line, some of whom have looked forward to this day all year. Pushing through the throng, shoppers spread out and hunt for the lowest prices. The fervor is highly contagious, and there’s a collective feeling that a brawl or stampede could break out at any moment. Yet the threat of physical harm isn’t enough to deter the savvy shopper from attending Black Friday. The only thing that can do that is a more affordable, convenient shopping experience: Cyber Monday.

Cyber Monday has only grown in popularity since its inception in 2005, with 2020 being the biggest year on record. Cyber Monday will continue to dominate e-commerce sales, so we’re exploring the history of this shopping holiday and what its success means for online retailers. If you’re interested in a more in-depth exploration, you can always check out our online undergraduate certificate in digital marketing.

The Monday After Thanksgiving

The name “Cyber Monday” was coined by the National Retail Federation (NRF) in a 2005 press release entitled “’Cyber Monday’ Quickly Becoming One of the Biggest Online Shopping Days of the Year.” Online sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving had been climbing in previous years, and retailers, always eager to promote the holiday season, responded by offering special promotions and discounts on that day. Experts lacked a definitive reason for this shift in behavior but suspected that improved internet access and the pressures of holiday shopping were responsible.

Cocktail Party Conversation

The term “Cyber Monday” can be directly attributed to Ellen Davis, who was an executive on the NRF PR team at the time of the press release. “It’s a random bit of cocktail party conversation I like to bring up sometimes,” Davis told Fast Company. “It’s surreal to think that I’m associated with a term that has taken off like this.” The name Black Monday was considered, to keep with theme of Black Friday, but—wouldn’t you know it—that name was already attributed to the 1987 stock market crash.

Returning From a Weekend of Shopping

Cyber Monday was soon adopted by retailers, although some news outlets were initially skeptical of the shopping day. The New York Times wrote in 2005: “Hence the catchy Cyber Monday, so called because millions of productive Americans, fresh off a weekend at the mall, are expected to return to work and their high-speed internet connections on Nov. 28 and spend the day buying what they liked in all those stores.” Turns out, that’s exactly what consumers did.

The Rising Tide

By 2008, the housing bubble had burst, the Great Recession was in full swing, and millions of Americans were left without their careers, homes, or savings. Cyber Monday became less a convenience and more of a way to cover expenses during the holiday season. Cyber Monday deals drove consumers online (many during work hours), and sales continued to tick upwards. Amazon was the most visited retail website visited on Cyber Monday, with traffic to the website up 21% from the previous year. Yet a rising tide lifts all boats, and Amazon, Walmart, and other retailers began extending Cyber Monday days throughout the week. Cyber Monday had become “Cyber Week.” 

Cyber Monday sales continued their rapid ascent and reached $1 billion for the first time in 2010, confirming it as the largest online shopping day in the U.S.

The Largest Online Shopping Day in History

How much did online shoppers spend in 2020? $10.8 billion. This time there was no question as to what was driving online sales: COVID-19. Rather than risk infection (and getting trampled), consumers elected to have products shipped to their door or readied for curbside pickup. The continued growth of digital commerce—spurred by the pandemic—made Monday, November 30, 2020, the largest online shopping day in U.S. history.

One quarter of the day’s sales were made between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Pacific Time. During these “golden hours of retail,” consumers spent $12 million dollars per minute on discounted items, such as hoverboards, headphones, and HDTVs. This surge in sales was thought to be due to “FOMO,” or fear of missing out. After a week of researching products, reading reviews, and comparing prices, consumers filled their online shopping carts and confirmed their orders just before the day and deals ended.

Forever Altering the Digital Landscape

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are now joined by Small Business Saturday, a celebration of local brick-and-mortar stores, and Giving Tuesday, a day to donate to charitable causes. Amazon Prime Day is yet another e-commerce holiday to spawn in recent years. Total online retail sales during Prime Day surpassed $11 billion, beating out Cyber Monday. The only thing keeping Prime Day from taking the top spot as the world’s largest online shopping day is its 48-hour time frame.

Cyber Monday has forever altered how people wield their purchasing power, especially online. No matter when you read this, Cyber Monday is sure to be one of the largest, if not the largest, online shopping events of the year. Cyber Monday is one of the few days of the year when frugal shoppers open their wallets and click “Buy Now.” It’s a phenomenon that fuels the expected growth of e-retail revenues to $5.4 trillion in the U.S. by 2022. 

Explore Digital Marketing at UT Permian Basin

The University of Texas Permian Basin offers an online undergraduate certificate in digital marketing. This 12-credit certificate program can be completed in tandem with any of UT Permian Basin’s bachelor’s degree programs, such as our online Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing. Courses like Digital Branding, E-Marketing, and E-Commerce empower students in our certificate program with the tools they need to establish a company’s digital presence and connect with consumers on multiple communication platforms. Cyber Monday may only come once a year, but the lessons taught in our virtual classrooms will prove invaluable throughout a graduate’s career. 

Digital marketing is an ever-changing landscape, and only professionals with specialized knowledge can hope to keep up. Apply now to our online undergraduate certificate program and evolve alongside online retailers.