Ah Christmas! It’s a time for family, feasting and fun. But while the nation dreams of a white Christmas, jingle bells are ringing in tills all over the land.
It’s no secret that the commercial side of Christmas means booming business for retailers large and small everywhere. Even in times of economic uncertainty, the feel good factor of the festive season encourages greater spending. However, while we enjoy the seasonal lights and festive window displays in high streets and malls, the truth is that Christmas shopping is not for the faint-hearted!
More ‘click’ than ‘brick’
Having seen some of the recent ‘Black Friday’ chaos in stores, the rising popularity of online shopping should be no surprise. Over the last few years there has been a seismic shift in UK shopping habits, with growth in online shopping outstripping the high streets. Convenience and comfort have meant that internet shopping has come into its own, especially for seasonal shopping frenzies such as Christmas.
The Centre for Retail Research has found that the online retail sector is the main driver of growth in retailing in Europe and North America. In Europe the growth rate was estimated to be 18.6% in 2015 and the expected rate for 2016 will be around 16.7%, compared to annual growth rates for all types of retailing which range between 1.5% and 3.5% pa.
If you’re a shopper in a small UK town, you now have the whole online retail world available to you at a click or a tap. The ubiquity of smartphones and tablets has made it even easier for shoppers to search for that perfect present.
Christmas comes earlier
Government statistics show that each year has seen an increase in the value of Christmas online sales – in December 2014 they accounted for 11.3% of all retail sales, while in December 2015 they were up 8.2%.
However the 2015 retail figures also revealed one curious effect of Christmas on online shopping – shoppers seem to start their Christmas present buying early. This explains why online sales figures in December 2015 actually fell 5.2% compared with November that year. According to the Daily Telegraph, ‘Black Friday’ – a day at the end of November and a marketing ploy imported from US in recent years – has become “the biggest shopping day in Britain, with approximately £1.1bn spent online in just 24 hours last year.”
Retail pundits have observed that eager buyers stocked up early on electronics, health and beauty and women’s fashion resulting in a dip in the final run-up to last Christmas. Whether or not this is borne out in future years, it is clear that online retailing accounts for a growing proportion of our spending.
For the retail industry, Christmas is an important sales opportunity. But it’s not all plain sailing. When it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, online retailers need to be geared up and ready:
- Is your ecommerce platform robust enough to cope?
Even though they’ve jumped the queues, savvy internet customers still expect a good shopping experience – don’t give them lagging loading messages and bad links. Make sure your online platforms are viable and reliable. Ensure your payment system is secure and shoppers can see that you’re ‘trustworthy’.
- Stock up
Make sure you have the stock or services available for the festive season. With the Christmas surge now starting even earlier, plan ahead to make sure you can offer a good choice and range of options to your customers. They’ll also be more likely to come back to your site and purchase again as well as recommend to friends.*
- Stand and deliver
Amidst the increased sales don’t overlook the challenges of delivery in time to make it under the Christmas tree. Citizens Advice says there were 4.8m delivery problems last Christmas, and expects even more this year.
So while Christmas gives the online retail industry a seasonal boost and digital baskets overflow, the lesson for retailers is to be prepared. The shopping landscape has changed irreversibly and the effect of Christmas is to show the mighty power of the mouse, or more often these days, the ‘swipe and tap’. So here it is, Merry Christmas!
* If you operate warehousing or are taking on temp staff over the Christmas period, a smart clocking in system like uAttend is easy to set up. It’s easy to keep track of who’s on site and to make sure people are paid accurately for the hours they’ve worked for you.
Retail customers also use uAttend to efficiently manage staffing in store. uAttend is flexible and scalable, it’s simple to add new stores as businesses grow. Managers can see who’s clocked in in each store, hours worked, etc., whether they are in the head office or on the move.