Spoiler Alert: There’s no such thing as Cyber Monday

Also, there’s no Santa Claus. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you.

First of all, “cyber”? Must we? “Cyber” was cringe-inducingly uncool by 2001 – back when there was still no shame in having an AOL email address. Coined by Shop.org in 2005, Cyber Monday was apparently meant to describe the tendency of shoppers to go online on this date rather than motoring down to the Woolworth’s five & dime in their horseless carriage.

The anachronism starts with the name, but it doesn’t end there. The premise is that shoppers that have scoured brick-and-mortar bargains over the long weekend will supplement that activity with online shopping at work on Monday, because their dial-up connections at home are too slow to be practical.

But wait: what is this “dial-up” thing you speak of? Broadband penetration in the U.S. is something on the order of 70%, and it’s higher among heavy shoppers. Connectivity hasn’t been a major factor in shopping behavior in a good long while. I hate to be the bearer of more bad news: people shop online at work because they’re bored at work.

It may seem like hair-splitting to argue about why people shop online at work, as long as they do, but I beg to differ: it matters greatly whether retailers treat Cyber Monday as a digitized Black Friday – a melee of frantic bargain-hunting – rather than recognizing the real behavioral differences in online shopping and planning accordingly. Because one truism in retail strategy hasn’t changed since the days of Woolworth’s: pay attention to how consumer behavior evolves, or start planning your going-out-of-business sale.

Cyber Monday is based on the notion that the day should be a Big Event in roughly the same way as Black Friday, but online shopping doesn’t work that way. It isn’t event-based, and it never will be. Black Friday shoppers are driven by collective participation in a time-based, competitive stalk-and-kill event, like deer season in Wisconsin. Online shopping is comparative and deliberate, and it doesn’t follow a specific sequence, because it doesn’t need to.

The real data shows that consumers are operating in multiple channels throughout the shopping season. Even while they’re cold-conking each other with coffeemakers to be the first to the electronics aisle on Black Friday, they’re studiously comparing online prices; Comcast reports a 28% YOY increase in online shopping on Thanksgiving Day. A year from now, with up to 150 million smart phone users scanning barcodes with their phones to instantly compare prices online and off, Black Friday will be a completely different ballgame, and Cyber Monday will be more out of touch than ever.

Now I will acknowledge, before someone else forces me to do so, that Cyber Monday participation doesincrease each year, in a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. If you cajole enough online retailers into believing that they must offer big Cyber Monday discounts, then before you know it, you’ve got yourself a Cyber Monday, replete with discounts. How ‘bout that.

But I doubt that either retailers or consumers are very well served by participating in this meaningless tautology. In the real world, consumers chase bargains across channels no matter what day it is, and they shop until the last shipment drops before Christmas. For high-consideration purchases, they take their time and do their research. Retailers that focus more on creating superb online experiences and multi-channel consistency – building loyalty over the long term – are far better off than Cyber Monday discounters.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to hop on the high-speed series of tubes that my office provides me. I hear there’s a run on phonograph players over at the Sears & Roebuck website, and I’m prepared to throttle any scoundrel that gets in my way.


Why Marketers Should Care About Kinect

Last week marked a watershed event in the evolution of digital marketing, albeit one that received scant attention from digital marketers. But any event that promises to have millions of consumers earnestly waving at and talking to their televisions suggests a shift in behavior that no marketer can afford to ignore. I refer, of course, to the launch of Microsoft’s new motion-sensing, voice-activated gaming platform, Xbox Kinect.

Now, I know the Xbox Kinect reviews have been mixed. The consensus seems to be that the device’s potential is great, but the immediate user experience is, well, less so. And having tried Kinect, I will add my voice to that chorus. The giddy sense of awe I felt when the sensor first began to scan my movements was quickly deflated by the task of using this breakthrough interaction to fly around and collect coins in a box (in the Kinect Adventures game, which is packaged with the product). The main function of the game seems to be to prove that motion detection actually works; at least they had the sense not to name it Kinect Calibration Adventures.

But such bellyaching is like writing an eyewitness account of the Wright brothers’ first flight and complaining that there aren’t yet any direct flights from Kitty Hawk to Cleveland. OK, it’s not quite that presumptuous; if you shell out 150 bucks for a console add-on, you should expect to have some fun right out of the box. But a new gaming experience is just one small part of what Kinect represents in the Big Picture of human-computer interaction.

We easily forget how awkward and constrained our interactions with technology can be until something new comes along and shatters that artificiality. Why click a mouse or a remote when you can wave or talk? This is, to me, the great promise of Kinect: it’s the harbinger of more natural, physical, dimensional ways of interacting with digital content that’s been historically artificial and flat.

I beg your indulgence for one more analogy: everyone knows that Marconi invented the radio, except that he didn’t. It was probably a Russian named Popov, who tested a radio receiver a year earlier. While doing so, he was struck by lightning, and he decided that his device was, instead, a “lightning detector,” which was something the world badly needed. You really have to admire that kind of flexibility.

It won’t take a bolt from the blue for smart marketers to see Kinect’s potential as a lightning detector rather than a mere gaming platform. Brands like Burger King have signed on to have their products visually scanned into the gaming experience, but the potential goes well beyond that. What if you could shop in an etailer’s virtual boutique and try on clothes that are fitted to your scanned-in profile? What if you could take a virtual test drive that perfectly mimicked the driver’s seat experience?

I don’t expect this brave new world to be Brought to You by Microsoft, and if it were, it might be closer to Brave New World than I care to imagine. But props to them for volunteering for the scouting party—never an easy mission. I’m still waiting for the digital world to deliver my jetpack, but in the meantime, my agency White Horse is betting on the promise of Kinect and other new platforms to begin to deliver the digital experience we have long deserved—one that’s closer to the way we actually live in the analog world.