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PEAK 2022 Uncertainty continues around where and when shoppers will buy this Christmas

Image: B Walsh/courtesy of Royal Mail

Uncertainty continues around how – and when – shoppers will buy this Christmas. Continuing Royal Mail postal worker strikes may encourage more shoppers to buy in-store in the final run-up to Christmas – but cold weather, heavy snowfalls and rail strikes may serve to muffle the extent of that return to the high street. 

Retailers continue to warn of slower deliveries, often in the light of Royal Mail strikes that continue tomorrow and Thursday, before restarting on December 23 and 24. That appears to have having an effect well beyond its own network. M&S is warning at the checkout of potential delays due to “high volumes of orders in the carrier networks” and is flagging up alternatives such as click and collect, while is warning on its home page that it can’t guarantee Christmas delivery because of DPD delivery delays. Boots is encouraging shoppers to pick up in store, since “Royal Mail strikes may affect home deliveries”. Other retailers have brought their final delivery dates back. Waterstones last week brought final Christmas ordering dates back to 3pm December 16 for second-class post and 3pm December 19 for first class. House of Fraser is currently promising standard delivery for those who order by midnight on December 19. ParcelHero’s delivery tracker currently shows only Amazon and Argos offering Christmas Eve as a latest postal date – for premium services – while December 22 is given as the last date for retailers including Currys, John Lewis, M&S and Asos.

Melissa Minkow, director, retail strategy at CI&T, expects to see shoppers return to stores ahead of Christmas. “Amidst further strike action, brick-and-mortar shopping will inevitably grow more appealing for consumers, since heading to the shops eliminates the risk of order delays in the run up to Christmas,” says Minkow. 

“But even so, there is still considerable resiliency in brick-and-mortar, as many shoppers continue to find joy in the in-person shopping experience. After the rise of ecommerce during the pandemic, in 2023 we’ll see the pendulum swing towards brick-and-mortar as brands look for ways to appeal beyond price point. There is huge opportunity for brands to stand out by creating store environments that people can really enjoy, even if they don’t have a huge budget – after all, the experience of window shopping is free. Amidst rising prices and energy bills, just getting people into the store should be seen as a big victory in the year ahead, and will play a key role in creating long-term brand loyalty.”

Return to store?

The figures suggest that shoppers have returned to stores online gradually in recent weeks. Last week, footfall was 0.3% up on the previous week, according to Springboard. Its figures suggest that visitor numbers to all locations peaked last Tuesday (+6.4% week-on-week (WOW)) before falling in the light of cold weather on Saturday (-4.9%), with high streets particularly hard hit (-7.3%). 

But footfall to all destinations was also well up on the same time last year (+10.3%), while the gap with the same week in pre-pandemic 2019 has narrowed (-9.6%).

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, says: “Whilst footfall in UK high streets dropped marginally from the week before, London performed well with a rise in activity, particularly in Central London (+3.8% WOW), which may well have been driven by consumers bringing forward pre-Christmas shopping and entertainment trips in advance of the train strikes planned for this week. 

“In normal circumstances, this would be the week when retail and hospitality trade ramps up, with many employees typically having their Christmas parties and shoppers hitting stores to purchase gifts, culminating in “Super Saturday”, the final Saturday prior to Christmas Eve. With train strikes planned for four days this week, there will be a clear impact on the trading success of stores, hospitality venues and destinations in what is the last normal working and trading week before Christmas.”  

Continued snowfall may well mean that effect continues in the current week. 

However, it may be that more shoppers bought earlier this year – with eBay research suggesting that more than a quarter planned to do so when questioned in October. Its Christmas Ads Report 2022 questioned 2,000 UK adults via Opinium and found that 29% started their Christmas shopping earlier this year to get ahead of the kind of festive rush now being seen, while 77% plan to buy for Christmas on Black Friday. It also suggested that 52% were planning to buy more sustainably, looking for both secondhand and refurbished goods. 

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