23/11/2012 09:07 GMT | Updated 23/11/2012 09:37 GMT

Britain's Cyber Monday: Does It Really Exist?

Today is Black Friday - so called because its the day when traditionally, retailers finally get into the black - which heralds the biggest shopping weekend of the year.

Or does it?

While Black Friday, Thanksgiving Weekend and the more recent addition of Cyber Monday are big business in the US, is there the same push to kick-start your Christmas shopping in the UK?

Retailers, distributors and ecommerce experts are divided on the issue; some fervently believe that the phenomenon has successfully traversed the Atlantic, while others believe the first Monday in December is the more lucrative date in the UK, as it falls after everyone's pay day.

Huffington Post UK spoke to more than 30 experts ahead of the traditional Cyber Monday - which falls on 26 November - to sort the wheat from the marketing guff.

Yes! Cyber Monday's definitely here in the UK!

Among the strongest advocates for Cyber Monday being present in Britain was Tarlok Teji, retail analyst at Manchester Business School.

He told the Huff Post UK that over the past few years, the dates of cyber Monday have varied, driven by the order and delivery lead times of retailers.

"These times are now much shorter and it is fair to say this year's will be driven by the amount of money in peoples' wallets," he said.

“This year, I believe it will be 26 November, given many consumers will use credit cards and will not settle these bills until a month later. Having four clear weeks until Christmas is still foremost in consumers' minds to ensure that Santa does deliver on time to get the presents under the tree."

Karen Hamblen, UK PR manager for retailer Wayfair, was another advocate, telling Huff Post UK: "Some UK retailers may have altered their news to state the Monday after our UK pay day but in actual fact it’s not."

Wayfair stats revealed Cyber Monday 2011 sales on its site were 56% higher than the average daily sales made throughout the entire month of December 2011, and were 48% higher than every other day in November.

"Over the past couple of years we've seen Cyber Monday trending on Twitter and conversations about it happening on other social media sites, which has in the past driven incremental traffic to the site," she continued.

"We're expecting the same if not higher levels of traffic from social media channels again this year, specifically on Cyber Monday."

Online shopping spikes, but it's not just on 26 November

The majority of retail experts Huff Post UK spoke to fell into this camp - Brits' shopping habits are driven more by their pay day at the end of the month than a marketing push for the US's Cyber Monday.

IMRG, online retail industry association, said it sees a couple of weeks of heightened sales activity, rather than on a specific day.

Andy Mulcahy, head of communication at IMRG, told Huff Post UK: "Mondays are usually the busiest shopping day of the week for online retailers, so it follows that the Monday of the busiest weeks would be the peak for the year.

"With that in mind 3 December would probably be the one, but different retailers see different peaks on their sites; it's a bit of a curious phenomenon online and one of the reasons why we focus on a period as opposed to a day."

Consumers expected to spend £4.6 billion online over the two weeks commencing 3 December according to research from IMRG and Capgemini, with £920 million spent using mobile devices.

Many stores are now introducing Black Friday apps to encourage buying using mobile devices

Ian Foulds, insight and strategy director for global shopper marketing agency Integer, said while the first few years of Cyber Monday's inception looked like the UK was following the US, from 2010 that all changed.

"The Monday after 'Cyber Monday' was 15% busier, prompting the term 'MegaMonday'," Foulds explained.

"In 2012 the labels seem interchangeable, however the shopper behaviour remains the same with a spike in online browsing and spending in the first half of 2 December, followed by a peak in in-store sales as Christmas day beckons."

Eric Abensur is the group chief executive at Venda, which provides e-commerce websites for retailers. He said UK shoppers' habits get skewed by everything from the weather to payday and on the spot promotions.

"Don’t get too hooked into the myth of Cyber Monday," he said. "With many people being paid at the end or start of the month sales do tend to peak around the first few days. Retailers also play to this cash rich period with promotions and short term offers to encourage shoppers to spend. Ultimately, however, the proof will be in the transactions on the day.

"There's no doubt 3 December will mark the start of a very busy festive period for stores... (but) from our experience, we expect the peak periods for Christmas sales to be on 3 December with another smaller bounce on 6 December."

Amazon is plumping for 3 December too - last year the first Monday in December resulted in three million items being bought on the site; that's 35 items a second.

On average, at its peak, a delivery truck was leaving an Amazon UK fulfilment centre once every 2 minutes and 45 seconds.

Amazon believes Cyber Monday should be on 3 December in the UK

“As people increasingly shop on mobile devices and benefit from fast broadband at home, we're seeing a move towards customers buying their Christmas gifts later in the evening when they are at home relaxing," said Christopher North, managing director of UK Amazon.

"Monday 3 December could be the busiest day in the history of Amazon, and we're preparing for it by hiring more than 10,000 seasonal employees across our eight UK fulfilment centres.” predicted 3 and 10 December would be its busiest days: Marketing director Adam Stewart told Huff Post UK: "On Cyber Monday last year there was a 43% spike in sales from the previous day, and two-thirds of them were new customers.

“However, Christmas shopping definitely starts in November. Retailers should invest in a strong online presence to maximise the opportunities throughout November and December."

Ebay meanwhile is predicting Sunday 2 December to be its busiest day.

"Technology, and particularly mobile, have become catalysts for growth and have changed the way that we shop for good. The high street as we knew it, where the 'showroom' inside the four walls of the store was the centre of our shopping experience, has transformed forever," Olivier Ropars, senior director of mobile at eBay told Huff Post UK.

“This year, 55% of UK consumers plan to use their mobile device more than they did last year to browse the web, while 39% say they’ll use mobile devices to get inspiration, check prices or product details."

No! Brits don't shop more on Cyber Monday

A surprisingly large number of respondents completely dismissed the notion of Cyber Monday influencing sales in the UK.

Firebox said it was expecting its sales to peak in the last two weeks of December as consumers across the UK are choosing to leave it later than ever to buy their Christmas gifts.

Kris Bromley, managing director at Firebox, told Huff Post UK: “Traditionally US online retailers expect sales to peak on the Monday after Thanksgiving but the concept of a single Cyber Monday in the UK is dated and irrelevant.

"It's old hat and a generalisation: Every year, our customers are leaving it later to do their Christmas shopping. Consumers are now savvier than ever and have the resources to find exactly what they want when they want - there is no pressure to buy everything three or four weeks before Christmas on a certain day."

Gerard Doyle, chief executive of agreed: "I'm not convinced we see any trends that out-weigh the more important factors for online retail, like payday and accessibility. Most employees are paid at the end of the month so I'd expect the last working day, last calendar day or last Friday of the month to be much bigger than Cyber Monday."

Rival MyVoucherCodes' shopping peaked on 11 December in 2011.

And Prezzybox said Cyber Monday doesn’t really exist for its customers, with its biggest shopping day last Christmas being Tuesday 13 December with 830 orders. It predicts its busiest day this year will be 4 December.

Social media is driving more sales than ever before

OgilvyAction is currently running an investigation into consumers' shopping habits in the run up to Christmas and told Huff Post UK that social media interactions were increasingly helping people decide what to buy - and influencing when they buy.

Managing director Richard Woodward, said: "For example, your sister posts on Facebook what she would like for Christmas and, because you are already online, you head straight to an ecommerce site to purchase it.

"Our recent research shows 43% of consumers will be shopping in this way, spreading Christmas shopping over a longer period of time, essentially lessening the impact of Cyber Monday.”

Posh shoppers are also fans of leaving it late - lifestyle concierge service Quintessentially told Huff Post UK that while Mondays were their top day for sales, traffic peaks on Thursdays as clients are nearing the end of the week and firming up plans for the weekend.

Last minute gift suggestions are often requested of the Quintessentially team, and jewellery pieces and evening handbags the most commonly purchased items.

Advice for retailers

Given the wide variations of dates - how can retailers make the most of their promotions? Molly Taylor Morgan, senior manager at the Alibaba website offered four top tips:

1) Re-examination what worked and what did not in previous holiday promotions. Did free shipping effectively distinguish you from competitors? Did emails offering limited-time discounts generate opens, clicks and sales? What products have sold best for you in past holiday seasons?

2) Get creative. Technology is always changing, so consider new approaches, such as holiday contests and giveaways promoted through your social media channels. Design around products and product categories you expect will be hot this year.

3) Small online retailers often disregard pay-per-click advertising as too expensive, but keyword-driven PPC can be very cost-effective during the holidays. Also, don’t neglect SEO. As the season approaches, start to add to your website seasonal keywords such as 'gifts', 'Christmas', 'holiday shopping' etc.

4) When you have settled on your holiday promotions, build a calendar to ensure you can execute without missing deadlines.