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UK shoppers 'will spend more than £7bn online this Christmas': IMRG

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UK shoppers will spend more than £7bn online this Christmas, with almost half of that changing hands in the first two weeks of December, according to the IMRG. Changing consumer behaviour will also help to make 2011 the ‘real’ breakthrough year for mobile commerce, it says.

The online trade body predicts £7.75bn will be spent in the five weeks of the December shopping period, starting from November 28. IMRG figures show that last December, £6.8bn was spent online. This year's forecast, based on analysis of the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index, also suggests that this year retailers will see two continuously busy weeks of Christmas shopping, rather than the two peaks, Cyber and Mega Monday, predicted in previous years. In all, £3.72bn will be spent over the course of these two weeks. Last year, it says, 24% of the month’s purchases were made in each of the weeks of November 29 and December 6, rather than specifically on the Mondays.

The shift, it says, reflects real changes to consumer behaviour and comes as more people have fast broadband in their homes and no longer need to wait to get to work on Monday to make purchases over a fast connection. At the same time, it says, shoppers are becoming more expert in moving from channel to channel to find the best deal, whether that’s in a shop or through incentives offered through mobile marketing or social networks.

The big enabler of this, says IMRG, is mobile and the opportunities afforded by smartphones to research and compare products in-store and away from the home. The resulting ‘agile consumers’ can react to disruptions to their shopping journey and buy in the manner that suits them.

Therefore, believes IMRG, this will be the year that mobile commerce ‘really’ breaks through – and that retailers must be prepared for shoppers who want to buy through the channel that is most convenient for them. IMRG and eDigitalResearch findings suggest 35% plan to do more shopping over a smartphone at Christmas 2011.

David Smith, chief marketing and communications officer at IMRG, said: “The shopping behaviour displayed by the agile consumer reinforces the importance to retailers of offering a multichannel solution. Consumers want choice and continually demonstrate their willingness to switch channels to suit their specific circumstances and secure the best deal for themselves. Anyone focusing too heavily on a single channel is certain to miss out on opportunities for engagement as and when they arise.”

Chris Webster, VP and head of retail at Capgemini, said the figure was a significant one, and in line with the growth seen throughout 2011. “We are still spending, but we’re being selective, and this trend will be very apparent this Christmas,” he said. “Technology is evolving and so is the consumer. Gone are the days when we were limited to shopping just on the high street and were at the mercy of the weather. Shoppers have become very savvy, out of both need and convenience. We’ll hunt down the best bargains online to get the most out of our Christmas budget, but also because we can, easily and conveniently.”

Ulric Jerome, managing director of PIXmania.com, said customer numbers start to increase on the high tech products site from early November, but that shopping seriously begins in December. He said: “We know that our customers are watching their finances and are under real pressure to budget from month to month so the first day of the month is like a green light - customers know what they’ve got to spend and online they go.

“We see demand usually double overnight - from the start of December last year it shot up by 117% - and then continue to build through the month right up to Christmas.”

Our view: This analysis has interesting things to say about consumers' willingness to spend this Christmas. It seems that rather than shying away from spending at all, shoppers are primarily looking to make restricted budgets go as far as they can this year. That's particularly important when many people are still seeing frozen wages but rising inflation, particularly when it comes to that other seasonal factor, energy prices. Retailers who consider what this means for their customers will have a headstart this Christmas.

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