Cyber Monday on track for U.S. online shopping record

(Reuters) – Cyber Monday was on track to bring in a record $7.8 billion in U.S. online sales, as millions of shoppers scoured for steep discounts on everything from Lego sets to big-screen TVs.

The marketing event was expected to pick up steam this evening as West Coast shoppers nab deals after work and those on the U.S. East Coast make purchases before bed, according to Adobe Analytics, which measures transactions from 80 of the top 100 U.S. retailers.

“Many shoppers have waited on certain purchases, with three hours tonight expected to bring in as much revenue as an average full day,” said Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights.

Target Corp and Amazon.com Inc were pulling out all the stops by offering free delivery with no minimum order requirement and bombarding shoppers with promotional emails. Companies had logged $531 million as of 10 a.m. ET, Adobe Analytics found.

Shares of Amazon were up 5 percent in afternoon trade. Macy’s Inc, Kohls Corp and Target shares rose as well.

In a different estimate Mastercard SpendingPulse forecast a 25 percent jump in e-commerce sales volume to at least $3 billion. That figure was based on sales via the Mastercard payments network and estimates for other payment forms such as cash and check.

These U.S. forecasts still paled in comparison to Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s “Singles Day” earlier this month, which raked in $30.7 billion in sales.

The promotional efforts ahead of the U.S. shopping frenzy drew the ire of some who complained they woke up to even more Cyber Monday emails than in years past.

“Yes retailers, I’m aware it’s Cyber Monday even without the 150 emails,” tweeted Keina (@RealMamaEagle), a user from Delaware.

Packaged merchandise on a conveyer belt after being labeled for shipping is seen at the Amazon fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey, U.S., November 26, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

DEEP DISCOUNTS ON TOYS

Drawing an estimated 75 million shoppers, the day was a test of retailers’ online platforms and delivery operations.

If not backed with the right IT infrastructure, the heavy traffic could have caused hours of glitches like those during Amazon’s Prime Day marketing event in July.

But as of 2:30 p.m. ET on Monday, no big U.S. chain had technical difficulties, according to outage tracker DownDetector.com. On Black Friday some websites including apparel retailer J.Crew and home improvement chain Lowe’s Cos Inc had temporary outages.

Consumers are increasingly buying holiday gifts online, diluting the importance of Black Friday, when shoppers had traditionally flocked to brick-and-mortar stores for the best deals.

“I find Cyber Monday to be more convenient than Black Friday,” said Jeissy Casilla, 23, a retail worker in Puerto Rico, adding that it allowed her to browse multiple stores and offers and avoid long lines.

“I think that Cyber Monday is better in terms of how much you can get done while doing so little – basically a better chance at the best deals,” she said.

Toys were expected to have the biggest discounts, Adobe Analytics said, as retailers rush to fill the void left by the bankruptcy of top U.S. toy retailer Toys ‘R’ Us.

Target offered 30 percent off on select toys, while Kohl’s discounted Lego sets between 30 percent and 40 percent.

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Social media conversation tracker Brandwatch said out of 13,000 social media mentions of #Cybermonday, the Apple Watch and the Red Dead Redemption 2 video game were two products that were highly discussed.

The National Retail Federation forecast U.S. holiday retail sales, including online, in November and December will increase between 4.3 percent and 4.8 percent over 2017, for a total of $717.45 billion to $720.89 billion.

Additional reporting by Uday Sampath Kumar and Soundarya J in Bengaluru, Melissa Fares in New York and Jeffrey Dastin in Los Angeles; Editing by Bernard Orr and Meredith Mazzilli

NASA's InSight Spacecraft Lands on Mars and Snaps a Photo

After a six-month journey across hundreds of millions of miles of deep space, NASA’s InSight spacecraft—a mission nearly ten years and close to $1 billion in the making—landed successfully on the surface of Mars on Monday, touching down on the planet’s surface just a few minutes before 12:00 pm PT.

In the final moments of the spacecraft’s descent, the mission control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was silent as updates on InSight’s status blared over the PA system: “Altitude 300 meters… 200 meters… 80 meters… 60 meters … 50 meters, constant velocity 37 meters… 30 meters … 20 meters… 17 meters… standing by for touchdown… Touchdown confirmed! InSight is on the surface of Mars!” Immediately, the engineers in mission control burst into applause.

News of the successful touchdown was delivered to Earth via two briefcase-sized communication satellites named Mars Cube One-A and Mars Cube One-B, which accompanied InSight on its journey to Mars and monitored the spacecraft from high above the planet. The two “CubeSats” are the first of their kind to make the trip to deep space. On past missions to Mars, updates on a mission’s status have been relayed to Earth by spacecraft stationed in Martian orbit, such as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. InSight, however, did not have an orbiter in position to forward information on its entry into Mars’s atmosphere, descent to the surface, and ultimate landing. Instead, InSight brought its own, mission-specific communications relay, in the form of MarCO-A and B. The tiny satellites’ performance today hints at how spacecraft going forward could phone home in near real-time from faraway planets, even in the absence of a permanent orbital outpost like MRO.

According to the MarCO telemetry, InSight deployed its parachute, activated its radar, detached from its backshell, activated its 12 descent engines and landed on the planet — all, it seems, according to plan. “Flawless… flawless,” said Rob Manning, chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, over the cheers of his colleagues. “This is what we really hoped and imagined in our mind’s eye. Sometimes things work out in your favor.” He added that InSight’s engineers will spend the next hours and days reviewing the landing data, to see just how well it went. But as of right now, he said, InSight’s landing was as close to perfect as his team could have expected.

Within minutes, the CubeSats had also relayed InSight’s first photograph of its surroundings on Mars. Conditions looked… dusty, with flecks of Elysium Planitia (InSight’s landing site and home for the duration of its mission) obscuring a view of the Martian horizon:

NASA/JPL-Caltech

But InSight’s mission planners were anticipating dust. Now, the lander must wait for that dust to settle—literally—before unfurling its solar arrays, which it will use to power its mission on Mars.

MRO and the MarCO satellites will be out of range by the time those solar arrays are fully deployed, which means we’ll have to wait another four or five hours for updates on their status. For now, though, all appears to be well with InSight. “The lander is not unhappy, it’s not complaining, it’s in a normal mode, so it’s going to chug along for the rest of the afternoon and finish its activities,” Manning said.

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Learn More About the InSight Mission