Just Another Cyber Monday

Oh, brother. The fifth annual round of “Cyber Monday” stories are here to hype a pure concoction of the online retailers.

The Washington Post plays straight man here, writing in its lede that “100 million shoppers (are) expected to troll online retailers for bargains on what has become known as Cyber Monday, helping to make the sector one of retailing’s few bright spots.”

Who expects 100 million shoppers? Well, the shopping industry, naturally, specifically online-merchant trade group Shop.org, whose press release the Post, along with many others, uses for its angle.

(PR Week leads an article with “The National Retail Federation (NRF), which created the term Cyber Monday in 2005, is working to extend the life of the popular online shopping day through social media and more localized media outreach.”)

The problem with these kinds of stories is that we need context that Cyber Monday has been way overhyped in the past. What’s different about this time?

Instead we get unhelpful quotes like this from the Post:

“Cyber Monday hopefully will be as big of a success this year as Black Friday,” said Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, the sister trade group of Shop.org. “A lot of retailers are putting a lot of stock in Cyber Monday.”

And a little too far into the weeds here:

Black Friday e-commerce sales jumped 11 percent over last year, to $595 million. It was unclear whether some of those sales came at the expense of Cyber Monday, but Fulgoni said he believed retailers would still perform well and had adapted to shoppers’ recessionary mindset.

Crain’s goes so far as to blow it out to Cyber Week.

CNBC.com does better, bringing some of the skepticism others neglected by pointing out that “Cyber Week” was a 2005 marketing concoction of Shop.org and has a history of untruths associated with it.

The way the story was marketed was that consumers headed back to the office, leftover turkey sandwich in hand, and hopped on the boss’s high-speed Internet connection and shopped online instead of working.

But the day never was the busiest online shopping day, as has been widely reported. Many times it hasn’t even cracked the list of the 10 busiest online shopping days, which tend to be either Mondays or Tuesdays, a week or two before the Dec. 25 holiday.

If you want an even better puncturing of the hype, see Mike Wendland:

To read all the news accounts today, you’d think it was a big deal.

It’s not. At least not anymore. While there will surely be a slight uptick in online business on this Monday after Thanksgiving, the rotten economy and the fact that most people now have broadband at home and no longer need the high speed Internet connections at work to access the net are likely to temper the Cyber Monday rush.

Besides, for several years now the really, really big online shopping day isn’t Cyber Monday at all. It comes a week or so before Christmas, likely to be December 18 (a Friday) this year…

McClatchy, for its part, reports that Cyber Monday’s influence is on the wane.

But wait, The Wall Street Journal reports it’s “poised to become the biggest day for online retail sales ever.” It does throw in some historical record pointing out how that hasn’t been the case.

But forgive a reader for being skeptical. Black Friday didn’t even live up to its hype this year, with sales slipping from the week before.

I have an idea: Let’s quit writing stories about Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Manic Monday, Ruby Tuesday, Wednesday Adams, etc. etc. People like to shop for Christmas presents. They do it sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Duh.

Our diminishing reportorial resources can better be used elsewhere.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.