the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest, baddest shopping day of the year. Web sites previewing Black Friday markdowns exploded this year...

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First it was Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest, baddest shopping day of the year.

Web sites previewing Black Friday markdowns exploded this year, sending 25 percent more online shoppers to comparison sites than last season, according to the online tracking service Hitwise. Then it was Black Monday, the second Monday of December, when mall-weary shoppers too impatient to use dial-up connections slammed Web vendors with high-speed ordering from employers’ computers.

More recently, Black Monday has been moved up to today, the Monday after Thanksgiving, as online shoppers scramble to take advantage of the first wave of holiday sale prices. Holiday shopping comes in any color, it seems, as long as it’s black.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that in the future, any holiday shopping day has the potential to be black. That’s because of a huge but taken-for-granted trend affecting America’s buying habits.

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What’s really going on here has less to do with shopping than with Internet access. For the first time this year, more households are logging on with a high-speed, broadband connection than are using dial-up, according to a Jupiter Research white paper tracking U.S. online population.

That figure, at 55 percent now, will grow to 78 percent, or more than three of every four households, by 2010, Jupiter forecasts. I think it’ll happen faster and deeper than that — already Nielsen//NetRatings puts home broadband at 64 percent of households.

Connection speeds keep getting faster. A typical download rate delivers from 2 to 6 megabits per second — more than 10 times faster than the original “high-speed” connections of the turn of the century.

Faster throughput means much more audio, near TV-quality video and vastly improved search and other services. All of this translates to a better shopping experience, reducing the cognitive advantages of trolling the malls first, then buying online.

Broadband-to-the-home growth also curbs the order-from-work motivation, undoubtedly to the relief of employers everywhere. It helps explain an intriguing statistic in America Online’s “Online Shopping Cities” survey of Seattle users released last week.

Although 55 percent of respondents said they planned to do more of their shopping online this season, only 19 percent said they would be shopping from work.

And why should they, when 55 percent say they shop in their pajamas and half say they shop in the middle of the night? (These stats may say something more about Seattleites than about online shopping, but that’s for another survey.)

As it becomes the de facto method of Web access, the always-on convenience of online shopping should distribute the “black” more evenly across the holiday season. Instead of mall discounts or post-Thanksgiving bargains, Web markdowns highlighted by search engines will dictate shopping spikes.

By the way, whatever happened to yuletide’s association with the color green?

Seattle freelance writer Paul Andrews has written about technology for more than two decades. He can be reached at pandrews@seattletimes.com.