Cyber Monday

In this photo illustration, Walmart advertises Cyber Monday sales on the company's website. (Scott Olson / Getty Images / November 26, 2012)

Consumers went in search of cyber deals Monday amid a barrage of emails and Web offers from retailers.

But Cyber Monday may be losing its significance as the biggest online day of the season, thanks to this year's earlier and more diluted kickoff to holiday shopping, both in stores and online.

Despite having more time to get to stores with expanded Thanksgiving hours, consumers spent less during the first four days of the holiday season, the National Retail Federation said. One forecast from America's Research Group on Monday projected fewer people would shop online on Cyber Monday, with 23 percent of consumers planning to, down from 29 percent last year.

"The sales have been ongoing," said Patrick Donaho, president of the Maryland Retailers Association. "If you only have so much discretionary income to go around, I don't know whether it will bleed off the sales that otherwise may have occurred" on Cyber Monday.

Part of that shift came about as technology improved and consumers no longer needed to wait to use faster Internet connections at work after the weekend. With mobile phones and tablets, consumers can shop whenever they want. This year, nearly 25 million people planned to shop with a mobile device on Cyber Monday, a 22 percent jump from last year, the retail federation reported.

For the past two years, Cyber Monday has been the biggest sales day of the year for Blinq, a Lanham-based online retailer that sells excess inventory for large retailers such as Target, Home Depot and BJ's Wholesale Club. While Blinq expects its Thanksgiving-through-Cyber Monday sales to double compared with last year, it was unclear how Cyber Monday itself will stack up, said Adam Vitarello, the e-tailer's chief operating officer.

"There's a blurring of the lines now between Cyber Monday and Black Friday," with the abundance of early online deals, Vitarello said. "Consumers have been primed to start shopping earlier."

At Blinq, Thanksgiving this year was the second-biggest sales day of the year — edged out only by Black Friday, Vitarello said.

"The fact that Thanksgiving was so big was shocking to us," he said, noting that just two years ago, Thanksgiving sales had been slow. But this year, consumers spread out spending, leading to sellouts or close to sellouts on items such as tablets and remote control toys, he said.

Retail e-commerce from desktops grew 3 percent to $20.6 billion in November, the first half of the holiday shopping season, reported comScore, which tracks digital spending, on Sunday. More than 131 million consumers planned to shop online Monday, about 2 percent more than last year, according to an NRF survey compiled over the weekend.

But well over a third of the weekend's holiday shoppers already had shopped online at some point over the weekend, spending an average $178 or 44 percent of their weekend budget, the trade group's survey showed.

Retailers were expected to pull out all the stops anyway. Desktop e-commerce spending could reach a record $1.8 billion and swell to $2 billion including mobile e-commerce, comScore reported on Monday. Eight in 10 online retailers planned specific online deals for the day, the NRF's Shop.org eHoliday survey found.

As of Monday afternoon, South Moon Under was seeing double-digit online traffic increases with strong conversions to sales, said Jeff Hecker, vice president of e-commerce and creative for the Berlin, Md.-based apparel chain.

With all the hoopla over online promotions, one local "brick-and-mortar"-only retailer tried to capture some attention of its own.

Twenty20 Cycling Co., which has bike shops in Hampden and in Savage, advertised on its Facebook page that customers would get "Cyber Monday" discounts of 10 percent if they came in the store with a robot or a picture of one, or danced the "Robot" for five seconds. The shop had no takers but plenty of Facebook attention from customers by late afternoon.

"We have not had anyone perform … but we've had some threats," said Tommy Bullough, sales manager. "We are trying to offer something on a holiday that encourages people to consume elsewhere, and we wanted to make it fun without making a big statement about it."

It's a way to remind consumers that "on a day like Cyber Monday, things are always on sale on the Internet, but there's no connection," said Bullough, adding that customers often stop in seeking advice after buying the wrong bike part or clothing online. "We want to remind people that while the encouragement is there to go strike a deal, you can also get a good deal shopping locally."

Despite such efforts, it's likely that online shopping will only continue to grow. Retail e-commerce in the United States is expected to swell from $260 billion this year to $508 billion by the end of the decade, when it would represent 14 percent of the market, according to FTI Consulting Inc.

Blinq's Vitarello predicted the spillover of online shopping into the mainstream "will take away a little of the thunder … from Cyber Monday. Now, Thursday through Monday is one big mega-sale."

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com