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PEAK 2020 Non-essential shops can reopen next week, while latest footfall figures promising – although surveys show shoppers buying for Christmas online this year

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InternetRetailing rounds up the latest news, insights and trends on how retailers and customers are responding to this year’s peak trading season. In recent years pre-Christmas shopping has been at its highest over the Cyber Weekend of Black Friday to Cyber Monday, but the shape of this year’s shopping could well be different since English non-essential shops are now closed until December 2 under a second Covid-19 lockdown, while in Scotland non-essential shops are closed in 11 Tier 4 areas including Glasgow. Non-essential shops are currently open in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Shops set to reopen next week…

Non-essential retail shops in England will be able to reopen from December 2, as confirmed this afternoon in a statement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson. That means retailers will be getting set for a busy time, says Hayley-Jayne Cone, chief customer officer at experiential relationship management (XRM) company JRNI. 

Cone says: “It is great news for shoppers and retailers alike that all shops can reopen their doors on December 2. However, the reality of being able to do this smoothly and safely is not straightforward. Queues and crowds will need to be avoided as shoppers rush out and relish in some pre-Christmas retail therapy.

“While the numbers show that many presents have been bought online during lockdown, there are still very many items that shoppers prefer to shop in person for. For instance, stocking fillers, as the cost of postage is often cost-prohibitive, and high-ticket items like jewellery, lingerie, cosmetics and clothing.

“Blending options like shopping by appointment and virtual queuing slots, along with omnichannel models like kerbside pickups will ensure shoppers and staff enjoy a safe, smooth experience in the run up to Christmas.”

…while footfall shows some recovery in lockdown

The number of people visiting shops in the UK was last week 55.4% down on the same time last year, according to the latest figures from retail intelligence organisation Springboard. England, where non-essential retail is closed for a lockdown that ends on December 2, was worst hit in the week starting Sunday November 15, at -59.8%, followed by Scotland (-34.3%), Northern Ireland (-30.4%) and Wales (-29.6%). There were signs of recovery compared to the previous week, with footfall up by 5.9% across the UK, including a lift of 12.8% in Northern Ireland, 3.1% in Scotland, 3.8% in Wales and, despite the lockdown, a rise of 6.2% in England. 

Looking at different retail locations, UK retail parks saw the biggest week-on-week (WOW) rise in visitors – at 7.3% – and the smallest year-on-year (YOY) decline – at 7.3%, followed by shopping centres (+6.9% WOW, -63.8% YOY) and high streets (+4.8% WOW, -63.5% YOY). 

Diana Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said: “Footfall across UK retail destinations strengthened slightly in what was the second complete week of lockdown in England, with the annual decline in footfall in retail destinations in England now currently around double that in each of the devolved nations. 

“Virtually all of the improvement in footfall occurred at each end of the week, with double digit rises from the week before on Sunday and Saturday, and far more modest uplifts during the working week. It seems that despite non-essential stores being closed in England, trips to bricks and mortar stores have increased across the UK as a whole, although these were more significant in shopping centres and retail parks than in high streets. Surprisingly, given the lockdown in England, week-on-week increases in footfall in English regions were on par or larger than in the devolved nations.” 

Google shows changes in online consumer behaviour ahead of peak

With the UK approaching its first wholly digital Black Friday event, Google has identified a number of key shifts in online shopping behaviour which may help retailers reach consumers during this all-important period. 

Google Search Trends data reveals that searches for ‘Christmas shopping’ are up 1,800% in the UK, while searches for “early Black Friday” and “early Black Friday deals” are up 146% and 150% compared to last year. 

There is also a significant rise in the purpose-driven shopper, with global searches for “available near me” having grown 100%+ year-over-year while 76% of British consumers are open to shopping locally. 

The search engine also reported that the term “online shopping” is up +209% for the same period last year. “70% of UK consumers are planning to shop online more than they did in previous years in the closing months of the year,” says Becky Power, director, consumer retail & technology at Google UK

“The message is clear; consumers are looking beyond traditional peaks in the shopping calendar as they continue to enjoy the flexibility of browsing online.”

One in five shoppers in England doing Christmas shopping online during lockdown

Consumers in England are getting organised with their Christmas shopping this year, with a significant proportion saying they planned to use lockdown to shop online for gifts, according to a survey from Emarsys. 

Emarsys questioned 1,000 UK consumers and found that 22% plan to complete their Christmas shopping online during lockdown, while 16% said they’ve already finished purchasing gifts for the festive season. 

Nearly a third (29%), however, are waiting until lockdown ends to do their Christmas shop, 

and just 6% said they see the Black Friday sales on November 27 as an opportunity to buy discounted presents. 

Alex Timlin, SVP of verticals at Emarsys, said: “It’s no surprise that consumers want to get their Christmas shopping done early this year to ensure deliveries arrive on time.

“Having said all that, the retail industry might even see reduced spend in the holiday period because of the threat of an extended lockdown and ban against households mixing — as people are less likely to buy presents for those they don’t see in person! From our own data, it’s clear that footwear and women’s apparel is already being hit hard this year.”

Is Black Friday set to be just another day of discounts this year?

Black Friday is less likely to be a standout day of big sales this year, and more another day in a longer Black November, predicts Jacqui Baker, retail director at RSM UK. She says retailers are turning to longer periods of promotional activity for survival as well as safety. But she does not expect to see stronger November sales as a result

“Realistically,” says Baker, “what we’ll see now are blurred lines between Black Friday, Cyber Monday and discounting through to Christmas and beyond. The one benefit of this for categories like fashion and beauty is that the period will allow them to sell amassed stock accumulated during the first lockdown. But retailers must be careful of customer inertia when it comes to sales activity. The impact on their brand could be devastating not to mention the effect on margins.”

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