There are early warnings about potential heavy snowfall this winter, raising the possibility of dramatic effects on online retail deliveries.
Shoppers are being urged to order early, as a result and that in itself could mean an early Christmas rush for retailers as online buyers seek to avoid a repeat of last year's nail-biting wait for their gifts to arrive.
Long-range forecaster James Madden, of not-for-profit Exacta Weather has said he expects, “frequent and heavy snowfalls to occur across many parts of the UK during November, December and January,” starting in the north and Scotland.
Meanwhile, Netweather says there could be snowfall in November. “With the current forecast showing the potential for temperatures to be below normal, this could indicate the increased risk of more widespread snow,” it said, adding: “At this range there is no way to accurately predict whether this may be the case and should it occur, when it may happen.”
Delivery company Century Logistics, whose customers are 60% online retailers, says shoppers should take note. Managing director Stephen Basey-Fisher said: “We recommend shoppers make their purchases as early as possible in case the weather does cause disruptions to retailers’ supply chains.
“This is especially true for those buying goods online as this type of shopping is often left until the very last minute and the amount of time it takes to deliver is sometimes forgotten.”
Speaking 82 days before Christmas day, he added: “We can make sure our warehouse inventories are fully prepared in the run up to Christmas, but blizzards can result in parcel companies struggling to make the final delivery. We are already in contact with our carriers to make sure they are fully prepared should bad weather strike as predicted.”
Last year online shoppers experienced a tense run-up to Christmas, uncertain whether gifts they had ordered would arrive in time as widespread snow hit the UK in the run up to Christmas. Meanwhile, many ecommerce traders brought forward the cut off point for delivery in time for Christmas.
Century Logistics points out that large sections of the M25 were closed last December as snowfall of up to 76cm fell and temperatures fell to -19C. Heathrow and Gatwick airports closed while Kent was virtually cut off when a 32km stretch of the M8 was closed for 48 hours.
The warning comes as the first retailers start to send out their Christmas-themed marketing emails. Boots opened its online Christmas shop in late September, while Christmas offers are now live from retailers as diverse as the Early Learning Centre and the RSPB.
Last year shoppers spent 25% more online in December, parting with a total of £6.8bn, according to the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index. On Mega Monday, December 6, £831,000 was spent in a minute (13.15), according to Retail Decisions. But one in six did not receive all their gifts in time for Christmas, an Intersperience report found.