Christmas shopping is big business for retailers, online and otherwise, but Cyber Monday sales are supposed to spur online shoppers in particular.

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Imagine an agonizing eternity of furious beeps and screeching chimes -- then cue the wailing banshees and thumping zombies. That's what shoppers used to have to endure if they wanted to make purchases online from home. Dreadful. Back in the days of dialup, U.S. shoppers who wanted to partake in seasonal sales yet refused to brave the mall madness that ensues on Black Friday -- the day following Thanksgiving -- had to still spend their holiday weekend waiting for their Internet connection to cooperate. That is, until many holiday shoppers -- and the retailers marketing to them -- realized there was another way. Why not just hold off on offering and shopping for online sales until everyone's back at their desks on Monday with speedy broadband connections?

After all, it's not surprising that people want to avoid the early bird sales and massive crowds that one must often face on Black Friday. Competition for products like discounted electronics can get fierce, but when it comes to stuff like the season's hottest toys, it's positively cutthroat. Take the deadly incident at a Wal-Mart in 2008. One person was trampled to death and 11 more were injured when a mob of 2,000 shoppers broke down the store's doors and stormed inside [source: USA Today]. Little wonder some people prefer to shop online.

Although it isn't always the busiest shopping day of the year, online retailers offering Cyber Monday promotions can generally expect a good take for their efforts. But how did Cyber Monday officially get going?