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It’s set to be a multichannel Christmas: report

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British shoppers are set for a multichannel Christmas this year, according to two reports out this week.

How Britain Will Shop For Christmas, a study from retail analysts Verdict and SAS UK, predicts that while shoppers will spend £86bn this Christmas, just one per cent more than they did last year, the high street is set to miss out. Instead of taking to the streets for their annual shopping spree, UK consumers will instead look online, while favouring department stores and discount outlets.

Meanwhile, IMRG and Capgemini predict that around £4.6bn will be spent online in the UK in the first two weeks of December. Of that, around £920m is expected to go through mobile devices.

And while 8.2% of all online sales were made over a mobile device in the first quarter of this year, that’s expected to reach 20% by the end of the year.

Tina Spooner, chief information officer at IMRG, said: “What we are seeing in this 20% mobile forecast is a shift in the way that consumers interact with brands online. While it is still common for consumers to browse the shops at weekends before making the final purchase online at Monday lunchtime, we are increasingly seeing the popularity of ‘second-screening’, where people browse on their mobile devices in front of the TV. Our recent research with eDigitalResearch found 80% of smartphone and tablet owners use their devices in this way, so we can expect to see that 20% share continue to grow in 2013.”

Chris Webster, head of retail and technology at Capgemini, said: “The ramp up of online sales rung up by retailers during the peak weeks will be of huge relief following the challenges of the summer period; from spending constraints to Olympic sized distractions. Retailers need to gear up for the twin peaks of online sales in early December and in-store sales which follow.

“We have seen this year, that mobile access is a must have, not a nice to have for retailers, with close to a billion pounds set to be spent via mobile devices this Christmas. Indeed, our research conducted in partnership with the MIT Center for Digital Business discovered that the most digitally advanced brands are 26% more profitable than competitors. Christmas 2012 will illustrate this better than ever before.”

The Verdict study suggests that online sales are set to come in at 10.6% of total retail spend for 2012. That implies 89.4% of spending will take place offline, and so stores will remain a key buying channel.

It suggests that those retailers who connect their online presence to their stores, with options such as click and collect, as well as those offering m-commerce options, with websites optimized for both smartphones and tablet computers are set to benefit.

“Click and collect and M-commerce will be particularly attractive for the time-pressed over Christmas,” said Cindy Etsell, head of retail, SAS UK & Ireland.

The study predicts a 1% rise in retail spending over Christmas, driven by a 2.9% rise in food sales and inflation. But total retail spending is expected to fall by 0.2% in volume, with food volume sales down by 0.5%. That means growth in sales will come from discounting.

“While spend is up, volume is down,” said Etsell, “and so discounting is expected to be a big part of retailers’ strategies. The combination of multichannel shopping and heavy discounting will increase competitive pressure. And so it’s absolutely crucial retailers have analytics technology in place to understand increasingly complex customer behaviours to make the right decisions in real-time on product, price, promotion and placement.”

While tablets are set to be a key gift area, it’s also important to remember the role they will play in buying gifts, says Maureen Hinton, practice leader, UK retail at Verdict Research. “What retailers need to remember is that tablets will not just be bought but will help people to buy,” said Hinton. “Those giving and receiving tablets at Christmas are likely also to be using them to shop, and so retailers need to ensure that sites are optimised and offer a good experience.”

To find out more about the Verdict/SAS report click here.

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