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Mobile users get a jump on Black Friday deals

More shoppers than ever got a virtual jump on Black Friday this year, snapping up online deals with smartphones and tablets on Thursday without even losing sight of — or a seat at — the Thanksgiving Day table.

Internet retailers recorded 17.4 percent more sales Thursday compared with the previous year's Thanksgiving Day, largely due to a spike in buying on mobile devices, according to IBM Smarter Commerce, which tracks online holiday shopping activity.

The number of consumers making Thanksgiving purchases with mobile devices rose 65.3 percent from the year prior, according to IBM. It also found that tablet users were big after-dinner spenders, with users of Apple's iPad making up 10.7 percent of all online shopping for the day.


"We definitely think people had their iPhones out during the dinner table conversation and then shifted over to the tablet after their pie," said Jay Henderson, strategy director for IBM Smarter Commerce. "Mobile is really having a breakout year."

The trend continued Black Friday, too, with mobile buying jumping at least 14.3 percent, according to IBM.

Being able to shop discreetly is a major allure of the smartphone as a Thanksgiving Day shopping tool, said Mitra Morgan, cofounder of Joss & Main, a Boston-based online store that ran several Thanksgiving Day sales. "Someone could actually be shopping from the table," she said.

The jump in mobile sales is an outgrowth of the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets. Even those who didn't shop were tethered to smartphones throughout Thanksgiving, snapping holiday photos and sharing them with relatives. The photo-sharing app Instagram recorded its busiest day on Thursday with users posting more than 10 million photos.

Overall online traffic was way up on Thursday, according to the Internet infrastructure company Akamai Technologies Inc. in Cambridge. It said that Web traffic topped 7.6 million page views per minute, three times the average daily numbers in early November.


Both online and brick-and-mortar retailers have made big pushes this year to compete for the mobile shopping dollar. Nearly one in five of the nearly 135 million US adult smartphone owners use their devices for shopping, according to Forrester Research, a Cambridge market research firm.

Big box retailers such as Target and Staples offered Thanksgiving Day shopping deals through the companies' mobile apps. Boston-based private sale site Rue La La, which offered numerous Thanksgiving Day deals, said its sales made on mobile devices Thursday jumped 75 percent over the previous year. More than half of its mobile sales were made on iPads.

Stacey Santo, vice president of marketing communications for Rue La La, said the advent of tablets is turning couch-shopping into a post-meal Thanksgiving tradition — right up there with watching football. "People are heading right to the couch, where it's off to holiday shopping," she said.

Still, mobile shopping remains a small fraction of overall retail spending, and accounts for about 5 percent of total Internet commerce, said Sucharita Mulpuru, a retail analyst at Forrester.

"Most people don't use their mobile phones when they are shopping," she said. "There's a lot more effort that is going into the channel than honestly the numbers probably justify."

Even with the rapid rise of smartphones, she said, most people still prefer shopping the old fashioned way: in stores.

Michael B. Farrell can be reached at