Machinery was purring gently. Boxes of Samsung televisions were stacked like blocks atop pallets on a glossy concrete floor. A shift supervisor waved jauntily as he zipped by on a red motorized chariot.
At 10 a.m. at the Target.com fulfillment center in Ontario, all seemed peaceful — even though it was a record-setting Cyber Monday. And this year, the online world's answer to Black Friday was attracting nearly as many shoppers as the four-day retail frenzy that preceded it.
"It never really feels like chaos," general manager Melissa Montgomery said of the annual online shopping event. "But as the day progresses, it's going to feel busier."
Cyber Monday is one of the most hectic days of the year for the 750,000-square-foot Inland Empire facility and other shipping hubs nationwide.
More than 131 million Americans — or 55% of all shoppers — were expected to head online throughout the day, the National Retail Federation said.
That would be up from 129 million people who participated last year, and nearly on par with the 141 million Americans who hit up stores or websites in the four days from Thanksgiving to Sunday, according to the trade group.
As of 3 p.m. Monday, online sales were up 17.5% over the same period last year, according to the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark. More than 8 in 10 online retailers offered Cyber Monday deals, the National Retail Federation found.
Wal-Mart said it expected to beat its performance from Cyber Monday 2012, which was its website's best sales day ever. FedEx said the day is projected to be the busiest of its history, with volume rising 11% year over year to more than 22 million shipments worldwide.
Among shoppers, 43% said they would tackle the promotions in the morning, and nearly 20% did so during their lunch hour, according to the National Retail Federation.
No matter that Cyber Monday falls on a workday, according to a report from Robert Half Technology. More executives told the staffing firm that they would give their workers unrestricted access to online shopping sites this year, and more than half said they allow on-the-job shopping.
Despite all the action, no panic was evident among the 35 workers working a 12-hour shift at the Target center. Calmly, they maneuvered forklifts into towers of cardboard boxes 10 feet high and distributed Barbie Dreamhouses, grills and Dyson vacuums to various dock doors.
Around the sprawling rectangular building — so long it takes 20 minutes to walk from one end to another — posters highlighted top holiday products. Garment racks, baby swings, snowflake throw pillows and other products destined for next-day delivery were segregated in a corner.
The facility is one of five centers for Target.com shipping — with others in Arizona, Minnesota, Georgia and Kentucky.
In Ontario, workers have been gearing up for the holidays for months, pre-packing toys and other items into Target-branded boxes. New technology helps measure products so that workers don't have to do it by hand to determine what size box to use.
"Fall season's always all hands on deck," Montgomery said.
More shoppers are migrating online to make purchases, drawn by the convenience of free or same-day shipping and the perception that Web discounts are deeper than deals in bricks-and-mortar stores.
Amazon.com featured several limited-time deals — 56% off a Razor Trikke E2 electric scooter, 42% off a SwissGear backpack, 49% off a burgundy mandolin. The items quickly sold out and the retailer had to close wait lists because of overwhelming demand.
Pasadena photographer Dawnley Burwell, 24, had such good luck finding discounts during Cyber Monday last year that she has been looking forward to the shopping event this year.
By noon, she had spent $75 on several gifts — mostly clothes and a few books — and said she'd probably shell out an additional $25 by the end of the day. It marked this year's first round of holiday gift-buying for Burwell, who said she tries "to avoid Black Friday at all costs" and does most of her shopping online.
"I get free shipping and better deals on Cyber Monday, so it doesn't even matter if I go into stores," she said. "I'm pretty stoked."
Because of Internet-centric shoppers like Burwell, online sales broke records over the Black Friday weekend while retailers had a modest weekend overall — with total sales down 2.7% to $57.4 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
Digital data provider ComScore predicted that Cyber Monday would be the heaviest online spending day in history, approaching $2 billion in spending — which would represent a 20% increase from the same day a year earlier.
Black Friday purchases made via computer neared $1.2 billion, representing the first billion-dollar day of the season and the heaviest online spending day to date, surging 15% over Black Friday last year, ComScore said. Thanksgiving sales online grew 21% to $766 million.
More than 66 million Americans visited retail websites using a computer Friday, with Amazon ranking as the most popular destination, followed by EBay, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target, ComScore reported.
The data don't include mobile shopping — buying through cellphones and tablets — which is growing rapidly.
As of 11 a.m. Monday, PayPal reported a 108.9% year-over-year increase in global mobile payment volume. Nearly 25 million shoppers said they planned to use their mobile device to shop Cyber Monday, up from 20 million last year and 3.7 million in 2009.
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