Wal-Mart will kick off Cyber Monday on Friday

Cyber Monday is starting earlier and earlier. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it's kicking off its Cyber Monday deals at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time Friday for the first time as it aims to grab customers before its competitors do.

Last year, the world's largest retailer pulled up the Cyber Monday deals to the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving for the first time.

Cyber Monday, which technically falls on the Monday after Thanksgiving, is typically the busiest day of the year for online shopping. The phrase was coined in 2005 by the National Retail Federation's online arm to encourage online buying when people returned to offices where they had high-speed Internet connections. Since then, the proliferation of smartphones has given shoppers constant Internet access, and now Cyber Monday is being used by retailers to pull in deal-hungry shoppers.

The push to start Cyber Monday deals earlier follows what's been happening with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, which used to officially kick off the holiday shopping season in stores. Over the last few years, retailers such as Wal-Mart, Macy's and Target have started the deals earlier, cutting into Thanksgiving Day. Now they're offering many of the same deals online as they do in stores on Thanksgiving.

This year, Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., is making Thanksgiving deals available online at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time on the holiday, three hours earlier than last year. Wal-Mart is starting its deals at its stores at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, the same time as last year.

Ravi Jariwala, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said 3 out of 4 customers polled by the company said they wanted to shop for Cyber Monday deals earlier — after the kickoff in stores.

The move comes as Wal-Mart aims to compete more aggressively with online leader Inc. Wal-Mart reported last week that its online sales growth accelerated to 20.6% in the third quarter, up from its 11.8% pace in the second quarter. Wal-Mart's online business has been helped in part by its growth in product assortment. It now offers 23 million products online, nearly triple what it did during last year's holiday shopping season.

ComScore predicts online spending on Cyber Monday will jump to $3.5 billion from $3.12 billion last year.

The firm's preliminary holiday shopping forecast is for online sales to rise as much as 19% to $81 billion.

Aside from a dip the day after the contentious presidential election, there are no signs that shoppers' appetite for spending has been seriously weakened, ComScore analyst Andrew Lipsman said.

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