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Is anybody actually going Christmas shopping?

Posted by Joe McNamara on 30th November 2012

The arrival of December and, with it, the prospect of Christmas shopping evokes the same seasonal feeling of dread in most people over the age of 11. As they descend on local shopping centres to be greeted by gaudily wrapped boxes of chocolates at twice the normal price, not to mention the 90 minute queue for Santa’s grotto for little more than a dodgy gift from Poundland, it can be difficult to muster festive cheer.

It’s all part of the fun in a weird way though, isn’t it? Well, according to research recently commissioned by Tealeaf, making a retail purchase online using a laptop or desktop is more popular (83%) than physically buying a product from a store (81%) among UK consumers. Furthermore, if last year is anything to go by, the January sales will be well underway as soon as we’ve received our presents, with Boxing Day 2011 seeing the hours of online buying and selling hit an all-time high.

So, will we actually be visiting the shops this year? According to research from IMRG, UK consumers are expected to spend £4.6billion online between the 3rd and 17th December. Almost £1billion of this figure will be spent using smartphones and tablets. An infographic produced by Lab 42 suggests that these online sales will make up two thirds of the seasonal shopping. However, I’m inclined to take that figure with a pinch of salt as the survey targeted social media users who are more likely to take a digital route!

Can high street shops use the internet to win shoppers back?

When I wrote my recent blog on GAME’s bid to recover customers by kitting out their stores with Wi-Fi, I was blissfully unaware of a term ‘showrooming’, which is fast becoming this season’s buzz-word in the e-commerce space. It’s basically window-shopping with a purpose. I walk into a shop, make sure the coat I’m about to buy is right for size, then wander out and buy it online later. No queues, no bags, no annoying checkout assistants trying to up-sell me bargain chocolate or sign me up for a store card.

A survey conducted by Skrill revealed that 1 in 3 Brits uses the high street for ‘window shopping’ or ‘showrooming’ in this way. According to research by Edgell Network and eBay Local, 80% of retailers expect sales to drop by around 5% due to this fad. Offering in-store Wi-Fi, particularly in large department stores, could encourage customers to make more immediate purchases and potentially reduce the risk of them forgetting to buy it when they get home. However, this would still impact on the high street stores’ attributed profits.

This tactic also confronts the issue of mobile comparison. With 43% of UK shoppers admitting to using smartphones to compare prices and read product reviews while shopping offline, shops providing in-store Wi-Fi networks could embracing this trend to improve the shopping experience for customers. By providing the facility to take advantage of the best online features like this, without suffering the disadvantages (such as having to wait for delivery, and gambling with size and fit), could the high street store reign supreme as the best of both worlds?

Where’s the real opportunity for retailers?

Unfortunately for you traditionalists, the answer is still online in terms of retail profits. While putting Wi-Fi in stores, promoting offers using QR codes, and embracing showrooming are all ways of getting people back into shops, there are still plenty of ways to get us spending more from our sofas. While high street rents remain sky-high, online will often make the most business sense.

I say from our sofas, of course what I really mean is while we’re sat at home, on a train, at work or queuing for a coffee. Trust Amazon to show us all the way with its awesome collection of mobile shopping apps that have left retail dinosaurs trailing in its wake.

Even for those retailers who aren’t quite ready for a fully automated mobile application shopping experience, optimising websites for navigation on mobile devices is an essential start. Shockingly, 60% of the UK’s 100 biggest advertisers do not have mobile-optimised sites. This can result in poor image rendering, a clunky interface with too much scrolling and screen loading, and ultimately a terrible mobile user experience that won’t encourage spending.

Recent research from Episerver into what we care about when shopping online shows that the most important things are ease of navigation and product search. Therefore, it’s important for online retailers to ensure getting around their site is seamless, and detailed product search is available, on any device.

An important take away from all of this is that while online retail is clearly growing, it’s still not perfect by any stretch. Shoppers generally head online for ease, which is especially important at Christmas when they want everything to run as smoothly as possible, but there’s still a place for the high street experience and its unrivalled role in getting us in the festive mood.

Let us know what you think; where will you be shopping this year?

Joe McNamara