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EDITORIAL Will bargain-hunting shoppers drive a marketplace peak?

Christmas is coming and now is the time to act

Today is Singles’ Day – 11-11-21 – and in many ways this event imported from China kicks of the UK’s peak trading season – and not a moment too soon.

While VoucherCodes is predicting that UK retailers are going to see around £1.7bn in sales on Single’s Day this year, up 13% on 2020, for many retailers its is going to be a vital shot in the arm. It is also hoped that it will kick start recalcitrant shoppers into some Christmas shopping action.

According to IMRG/Cap Gemini’s October online sales figures, any hope that there has been an early push towards yuletide retail are unfounded. It saw sales down 11% on last year – which was already quite a bad year – and things seem very flat.

The hope is that Singles’ Day will inspire shoppers to start thinking Christmas, with Wunderman Thompson Commerce still backing it being a winning year: it believes that Black Friday spending could be 15% up on last year.

There are several factors at work here. The pandemic has certainly dented shopper confidence, with wage worries and inflation concerns looming large over many household budgets. The threat of supply chain issues is also leading to some shopper inertia: why look when it won’t be available?

However, both these factors could well be what drives peak up, especially around discount events such as Singles’ Day and even Black Friday. Many believe that Singles’ Day, with its special offers and many items coming from China, could well overcome both these drags. Black Friday, assuming stocks can be built up, could help offer a way to shop for Christmas on a budget. Hopefully, October’s poor showing is an indication of pent-up spending yet to be unleashed.

Meanwhile, some of the key retailers that have perhaps suffered the most across the pandemic are starting to turn a corner. Marks & Spencer’s ‘Never the same again’ turn-around plan seems to be paying off as it yields a profit, while Halfords focus on new lines such as eBikes is also seeing it resurgent.

Retailers, however, have another worry: loyalty. A study out this week suggests that customer loyalty to brands is at an all time low, with most saying that they would buy from a rival if the price was better. They are also increasingly using marketplaces to find the items – not the brands – that they are looking for at the best price.

This is certainly a worrying trend. Marketplaces have long been creeping up on both search engines and retailer sites and apps and now seem to have achieved some kind of rudimentary dominance. The pressure on shoppers to find both what is actually in stock and at a good price has made the marketplace model, for them, overwhelmingly compelling.

For retailers this is more problematic. Much has been invested in sites, apps and search, but that could all now be offset by having to pay marketplaces to get them in front of customers – at a discount. How this plays out over peak is likely to also set the tone for 2022.

And if that wasn’t tough enough, not having the items that people want or messing up their order and delivery messes with people’s heads. A study by Goldsmiths, University of London, in partnership with eCommerce experts, Loqate, finds that people’s are mental traumatised by poor online shopping experiences.

With marketplaces able to offer good prices, good selection and good delivery, consumers are going to take pleasure – literally – in shopping in this way. No pressure.

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