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Christmas rush heads for the high street

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The Christmas shopping rush is expected to be all about the high street this weekend, according to research from Kelkoo. But, it says, that’s partly because almost a third of consumers wrongly believe it’s now too late to order goods online.

The shopping comparison site predicts that tomorrow will be the busiest day of the year for bricks and mortar shops, with 10m consumers expected to spend £1.11bn as they rush to buy last-minute Christmas gifts.

That rush will be exacerbated by both the impact of snowy weather on sales and the mistaken belief that Kelkoo says is shared by 32% of consumers – or 15.6m people – that final online orders had to be placed by December 10 in order for gifts to be received by Christmas.

“In fact,” says a Kelkoo spokesperson, “most online retailers will actually process orders until December 20 and in some cases major etailers will guarantee deliveries for orders placed before midday on December 23.”

Online lingerie retailer Mio Destino says that concern generated by media reports that online orders are not being delivered in Scotland has brought a sudden halt to ecommerce ordering – and unnecessarily so. Sales manager Susan Hopkins said today: “The irony is that we can still deliver in time for Christmas despite media reports to the contrary. Our courier company has not compromised their Next Day delivery service.” The merchant is now encouraging sales with the offer of free delivery for orders over £80. Next day delivery is available for orders placed until December 23.

But the snow is certainly still having a large impact on some deliveries, especially north of the border, where worries are now creeping in that some items may not be delivered before Christmas.

Andrew Starkey, delivery director at IMRG, the trade association for online retailers, said: “If deliveries can’t be made because of the weather, the depots fill up and when they can’t take any more, parcels have to be kept on the trailers that brought them across the country. This leaves all the delivery companies short of capacity to collect and move new orders.

“The result is that the whole pipeline starts to seize up with a knock on effect to parts of the country that otherwise don’t seem to have been hit too badly by the weather. It’s understandable that shoppers in these areas will find this frustrating, but without vehicles available in the right places to move parcels, they can’t simply be delivered. ”

But, says IMRG, retailers and carriers have been working hard to clear backlogs, increasing capacity by up to 30%. Most carriers, it says,forecast that they will have backlogs cleared before Christmas. The industry is well-placed to meet forecasts of £6.4bn spent online in December, with more than 250m parcels successfully delivered.

Overall, says Kelkoo, online sales are expected to make up 22% of Christmas shoppers’ spending this year, increasing online sales by 29% compared to last year to £11.5bn. Total Christmas retail sales are expected to rise by 1.3%, compared to last year, to £68.7bn, but high street sales are expected to be 2.9% down at £57.2bn.

The growing importance of online sales is reflected in the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) retail figures for November, released yesterday. It says that UK internet sales came to £660m, and accounted for 10.5% of total UK retail sales.

Overall, total retail sales were just 3.4% up, year on year. British Retail Consortium director-general Stephen Robertson said retailers were having a “nail-biting end to the year”. He said: “These official figures confirm how delicately balanced the retail sector is ahead of Christmas.

“Total sales growth has been weak for eight months now and a third of retailers have told us they’re expecting a worse Christmas than last year. What growth there is is largely coming from food sales.

“Shaky consumer confidence, with people worried about their jobs and personal finances, means customers are cutting back on non-essential purchases. Our figures show one in four households have no disposable income left at the end of the month, and that’s likely to get worse.”

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