Mobile devices help front-load online holiday sales

Black Friday was huge for online retailers, and Cyber Monday is looking to be big as well. But the interesting trend this year is the emergence of mobile devices helping to front load more online holiday sales, as shoppers aren’t waiting for those two big days to kick off their spending.

That’s one of the takeaways from early shopping data from this holiday weekend in the U.S., and it shows again how mobile is redefining holiday shopping. New data from comScore (s scor) found Black Friday sales were up 26 percent from 2010 to reach $816 million. But Thanksgiving Day sales were also up 18 percent to $479 million, and sales from Nov. 1 to Nov. 25 increased by 15 percent to $12.7 billion. IBM Coremetrics (s ibm) data found that Thanksgiving day sales revenue was up 39.3 percent thanks to early sales promotions.

What’s happening, according to a JP Morgan research note, is online shopping is shifting earlier as the line between online and offline commerce blurs, something mobile devices are enabling. JP Morgan noted a survey over the weekend that found almost 15 percent of respondents will shop on a smartphone or tablet on Cyber Monday, compared to 6.9 percent who did so last year. IBM Coremetrics (s ibm) said sales on mobile devices for Black Friday increased to 9.8 percent from 3.2 percent year over year.

Indeed, PayPal (s ebay) also noted since 2009, it has been seeing an increasing lift on Thanksgiving Day as more shoppers take advantage of idle time on the holiday to begin their shopping using mobile devices like tablets. We wrote about this “Couch Commerce” trend before, and it looks like it stayed true to form this year. PayPal said global mobile payment volume was up 511 percent on Thanksgiving 2011 compared to the year earlier, and there was a 350 percent increase in the number of global customers buying with PayPal mobile on Thanksgiving Day compared to 2010.

In recent years, free shipping and rapid delivery have helped shoppers put off purchases later into the holiday season — and mobile devices are still expected to help shoppers find last-minute gifts after the shipping deadlines pass. But now, as more people use their mobile devices and turn to them at home and in stores, it’s encouraging users to get out earlier to start picking up gifts. UBS and JP Morgan are predicting online holiday sales will be up 15 and 16 percent, respectively, from last year in part due to earlier holiday shopping.

Mobile devices are having a profound effect on shopping. They are helping traditional online sales thanks to very shopping-friendly devices like the iPad (s aapl) and the new Amazon Kindle (s amzn). They’re enabling consumers to feel more confident about purchases, because they have access to data at all times, and they also help consumers buy immediately as they hunt in store for deals. Apps like ShopSavvy and RedLaser are letting consumers not only find better deals on products in store, but also purchase them right from a store aisle.

We’ll have to see if sales projections for this holiday season hold up and if the early gains continue all the way to Christmas. It’s possible shoppers may be shifting their sales forward but not buying more online. But with the way consumers are increasingly relying on mobile devices, I wouldn’t be surprised if purchases are not only more front-loaded but bigger overall as the shopping experience evolves with the proliferation of tablets and smartphones.