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Black Friday: Shopping (online?) ’til you drop

If you’re reading this on Friday, I’m going to assume you’ve just returned from a harrowing Black Friday shopping experience at your nearest department store or mall. But it’s possible those days of waking up while it’s still dark and dashing off to the closest Kohl’s at 4 a.m. (or earlier) could become a relic of the past.

Online retailers are kicking up their websites in order to promote Black Friday deals, anticipating more visitors who might “map out” their shopping plans. Then, there’s the newer phenomenon known as Cyber Monday, where shoppers might turn online for holiday gifts after shopping ’til they dropped amidst the crowds this weekend.

Online shopping during the holidays (or Black Friday) is nothing new: About 10 years ago, I remember writing a column for my local newspaper about what was then a burgeoning trend. But, now, type Black Friday into Google and you’ll get more than 22 million hits. Clearly, the Web is a new destination for Black Friday shoppers, and beyond – I know I plan to hit up and eBay this holiday season.

According to this article on retailers and Black Friday in the Baltimore Sun, the creator of says that his website traffic has doubled in the past year, and he expects 5 million unique visitors this week, more than double the 2 million he received a year ago. The reason? It’s the economy, stupid: purveys coupons and Black Friday ads, offering visitors a better shot at bagging an early-morning bargain.

Five million unique visitors in a week, for a site that probably does very little Web traffic the rest of the year? Sounds like somebody must have stepped up his server system in the past year. Check out this post on e-commerce site crashes at the CIO Symmetry blog. (And, for a related story, check out this item on Texas A&M’s Aggies NCAA basketball program, and how the school prepared to handle a spike in traffic when the team played a big game on ESPN.)

I don’t mean to imply that the traditional Black Friday shopping rush is magically going to vanish one of these years. But more and more people are turning to the Web to shop. Especially since it might be tougher for people to part with their hard-earned paychecks this holiday season compared with those past, online retailers must respond with user-friendly websites that make browsing and purchasing a breeze.

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