Going by the estimates recently announced by ComScore, "Cyber Monday" is pretty hot. ComScore sees a 20% increase in Cyber Monday sales from last year, which will have it touching $1.5 billion for the first time. This, however, doesn’t beat the 26% increase in online sales on Black Friday.
And guess which company has done its homework best, laying the groundwork to tap this potential? Yes, it’s online retail giant Amazon.com (AMZN - Analyst Report) . The company has gone all out to build its digital offerings (e-books, music and video), which appears to be the hottest-selling category this season. Its Kindles will also do well, despite strong competitive offerings from Apple (AAPL - Analyst Report) . Amazon will also have a limited-period deal on its Kindle today, to ensure a little extra boost.
Hot on its heels is traditional brick-and-mortar retailer Wal-Mart Stores (WMT - Analyst Report) , which has prepped for the holiday season in its own way: with an improved online sales platform, a better assortment, new return policies and new deals for the season. The company’s online store is a hot spot for game sales, and preliminary results for Black Friday indicate that the segment did not disappoint.
Best Buy Co. (BBY - Analyst Report) was third on Black Friday. The company’s online sales are on the rise and the current quarter is expected to benefit from new releases (iPhone 5, Win-8, iPad Mini, and Wii U). The gross margin could bear watching, however, since many of these consumer electronics items and smaller-screen TVs mean lower margins for the company.
Nobody’s talking about eBay Inc. (EBAY - Analyst Report) , because it is itself a marketplace and not exactly a retailer. However, eBay’s timely mobile promo saw PayPal generating a 173% increase in customers and 193% increase in mobile payment volumes on Black Friday.
The Consumer Electronics Association has published strong numbers for the holiday season (dollar spending to be up 11% versus last year), with consumer electronics gifts topping consumer wish lists. Smartphones are clearly ahead of the pack, followed by tablets, notebooks and DVD/Blu-ray players.
But unlike in the past, we’re looking at smarter shoppers now, two-thirds of which will be comparing prices online, 41% using mobile devices to check online prices while in the store and 28% hunting down promos on social networking sites such as Facebook (FB - Analyst Report) .
At the moment the segment is, however, not such a good place to put your money. All these companies have issues: Amazon is investing tons in its overseas business, Wal-Mart’s employees are taking it to task while the government is thinking of removing some tax breaks that would adversely impact the company, Best Buy’s margins appear to be wearing thin, while Apple could be losing its touch.
Best to go with a company like eBay, which is in a turnaround phase sporting a solid payments platform, the potential of which is not fully priced into the shares. That’s the reason the Zacks Rank on eBay shares is #2 (Buy rating in the next 1-3 months), while both Wal-Mart and Amazon are ranked #3 (Hold) and Best Buy #4 (Sell).