The early numbers suggest that overall, the 2013 holiday retail shopping extravaganza got off to its slowest start in four years, indicating that the U.S. economy is approaching Christmas in a fragile state. Bloomberg summed up the big picture in one devastating sentence.
For the fourth year in a row, disposable incomes in 2013 have only inched up and job growth remains inconsistent. As a result, low-income Americans will again have a less-merry season than affluent consumers, who are more flush thanks in part to surging U.S. stock markets, which have attained all-time highs.
Online shopping, however, continued to grow. A report released Tuesday by IBM surveying 800 U.S. retail websites counted a 20 percent increase in "Cyber Monday" online sales over last year. Mobile sales -- purchases via smartphones and tablets -- grew by an eye-popping 55 percent.
IBM didn't disclose absolute dollar figures for online sales, so we don't have a good handle on how big a chunk of retail sales were displaced by online growth, or how small the base figure for 2012 mobile sales was original. But 55 percent growth still seems significant -- yet one more indicator on how massively we have been shifting to a mobile-centered lifestyle over the last two years. The implications of what's happening now are hard to exaggerate. The Internet has been savaging existing brick-and-mortar business models for more than a decade. But the current transition is moving much more quickly than anything we've seen so far. Never mind the scary, anarchic future in which Amazon and UPS drones battle for control of the neighborhood skies. An astonishing reconfiguration of how we shop and live is happening right now, at high speed.