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Online sales lead holiday rush before Cyber Monday

It looks like online shoppers got a big head start on Cyber Monday this weekend. But overall, the holiday buying season got off to a rather tepid start, even as many retailers opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day.

"It definitely seems as if sales on Thursday pulled from Black Friday and even a little bit over the weekend," closely followed retail watcher Dana Telsey told CNBC on Monday.

But despite that cannibalization, she said she thinks more stores will be opening Thanksgiving Day next year, because of the foot-traffic it generated.

(Read more: It's 'Cyber Monday': Here's what to expect)

The National Retail Federation said that the number of Thanksgiving Day shoppers grew 27 percent, as nearly 45 million people took advantage of special "turkey day" savings offers. That's up from 35 million in 2012.

But in total, the federation estimated that retail sales fell by 2.7 percent during the full Thanksgiving weekend to $57.4 billion. The average shopper spent $407.02, off nearly 6 percent because of lower prices.

(Read more: Winners and losers of Black Friday's megadeals)

In some cases, the holiday shopping promotions started as early as Nov. 1 and many deals began early last week. "The consumer, they got washed out as they went through to the weekend," Telsey told "Squawk Box." adding that 40 percent of holiday season sales typically happen from Dec. 15 though the Dec. 25.

But as Kurt Kuehn, chief financial officer at UPS, pointed out on CNBC: There's about six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.

"What that's really going to do is compress the normal volume during peak season into less days," he said, predicting that overall package deliveries "will be up modestly" with an 8 percent increase in daily volume.

As Cyber Monday begins, online shopping has already gotten off to a strong start with ComScore saying that U.S. online sales rose a total of 17.3 percent on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday.

(Read more: It's 'Cyber Monday':Here's what to expect)

"The big [online] surprise ... for me over the weekend was really eBay," Victor Anthony, Internet analyst at Topeka Capital Markets, told CNBC Monday.

In a separate "Squawk Box" interview, he pointed out, "Over the first three days of 'cyber five'—which is Thanksgiving, Black Friday, as well as Saturday—their sales are up 31 percent year over year, as tracked by ChannelAdvisors.. They edged out Amazon, which is up roughly 30 percent."

Both eBay and Amazon had their biggest sales increases on Black Friday, according to ChannelAdvisors.

"Even brick and mortar retailers now are more and more focused on their e-commerce application, and actually using their retail outlets as distribution centers," UPS' Kuehn said. "We're making hundreds of pickups at local stores on a daily basis and offer local delivery. That's one way brick and mortar retailers can compete with with great companies like Amazon."

"We expect today volumes will be up over 10 percent over last year with 32 million shipments," he estimated.

By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_SquawkCNBC.

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