"Cyber Friday," anyone? Online sales besting in-store sales

Clicks are on course to surpass bricks over the Thanksgiving holiday for the first time, as more shoppers migrate online from physical stores. The four-day weekend marks the unofficial start of the year-end retail frenzy. 

Shoppers will spend an estimated 51 percent of their holiday budgets this weekend via e-commerce, according to a survey by consulting firm Deloitte. Last year the online-shopping number was about 49 percent.

This is good news for the likes of Amazon.com, although traditional store chains such as Target and Walmart are fighting back with their own web offerings. Walmart, for instance, has unveiled a new mobile app and tripled the number of goods available from its e-commerce site.

E-commerce was off to a strong start, with Thanksgiving Day online shopping at $1.93 billion, according to Adobe Digital Insight, up 11.5 percent from last year. Mobile purchases, using phones and tablets, accounted for 57 percent of the online total. 

For the entire November-December holiday season, Forrester Research forecasts that online sales will exceed the $100 billion mark, surging 17 percent to $112 billion. 

On Friday, Macy’s website was so jammed that shoppers reportedly had to wait as long as several minutes to connect -- an eternity in Internet time for some consumers. A company spokesperson confirmed to CBS News that “high volume” on Macys.com “has slowed traffic” and “we are working quickly to alleviate the delay issue.” Macy’s Black Friday deals will remain available online through midnight on Saturday, the spokesperson said.

For more tips on budgeting and spending for the festive season, see our annual Holiday Financial Guide

How the holiday sales, whether in physical or digital outlets, translates to retailers’ bottom lines remains to be seen. Rampant discounting is more intense this year. A research note from Bank of America Merrill Lynch pointed out that “the consumer remains price-conscious.” 

Even Apple is rampantly discounting, with shoppers getting a $50 gift card to buy an iPhone and $25 for an Apple Watch.

That said, people still clogged physical stores. Kohl’s department stores reported record Thanksgiving sales, a bright spot for the department store chain, which like others has seen a dip in same-store sales, as online retail has claimed more of the consumer’s dollar.

Brian Motzko is making his usual trip to the Mall of America in Minnesota early Friday while visiting relatives for Thanksgiving.

The Cedar Falls, Iowa resident says he’s doing all his Christmas shopping on Black Friday, buying gifts for himself, his wife and family “until my card blows up.” He says, “I’ve got two teenage girls. It’s whatever.”

Motzko says he scored 70 percent off cookware at Williams-Sonoma and was on the hunt for a Bluetooth speaker. He said the nation’s largest shopping center seemed less packed than in years past.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

  • Larry Light

    Larry Light is a veteran financial editor and reporter who has worked for the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Business Week, Money, AdviceIQ and Newsday.