InternetRetailing rounds up the latest news, insights and trends on how retailers and customers are planning for peak trading this year. 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. Non-essential shops are closed from today in 11 Tier 4 areas of Scotland, including Glasgow, but remain open in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Asda this week said it expected a record online Christmas as shoppers start to stock up earlier than they have in previous years. The retailer has expanded its online grocery service to 765,000 delivery slots a week, while expanding its partnership with Uber Eats to 100 stores from 50.
Asda says it is already seeing a strong demand for Christmas trees (+83%), lights (57%), Christmas puddings (+71%) and mince pies (+44%). The retailer says that during the third quarter of its financial year, which ran from July 1 to September 30 and coincided with the end of the first lockdown and the reopening of restaurants and pubs, its sales – excluding fuel – rose by 2.7%.
“After a rollercoaster year it’s clear our customers are already planning for a very different Christmas,” said Roger Burnley, chief executive and president of Asda. “We have already seen a marked shift in buying patterns with customers stocking up their freezers and cupboards with festive essentials earlier than ever before, which suggests they are getting used to expecting the unexpected but preparing to enjoy themselves as much as possible. Whatever happens during the next few weeks, we are totally focused on delivering a great Christmas for our customers during these uncertain times.”
The retailer is also trialling partnerships with third-party retailers including B&Q, The Entertainer and Music Magpie to operate stores within its stores. Asda is currently owned by Walmart, which has agreed to sell it to the Issa brothers and TDR Capital in a deal that is set to complete in the first half of 2021.
With just over a week to go until Black Friday, more retailers are going live with their promotions, say IMRG. It sees evidence of early buying reflected in the week-on-week ecommerce sales growth rates, which are up by about 7% since last week. Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, predicts that in the week leading up to Black Friday “there is going to be rather a large spike, a lot of growth to come. We’re still going to see that boom.”
IMRG is tracking 320 ecommerce websites throughout peak trading to see how early retailers launch their Black Friday sales. Over the last week, 85 - or 27% of these sites have gone live with promotional offers, up 15.5% since last week. This represents quite an increase when compared to 2019. Clothing is taking the lead in terms of the most prominent category in Black Friday, with 19 retailers now participating; this is followed by beauty (9), electricals (9) and womens (8).
There’s a warning too that ecommerce sites could be affected in coming days as many more shoppers than usual opt to buy their Christmas shopping online rather than in-store, at a time when non-essential retail shops are closed. Mulcahy said that some sites, including John Lewis, had fallen over due to the official release of the new Playstation 5 console today. He adds: “Is that a foretaste of things to come, if we’re looking at huge volumes of traffic coming to sites?”.
John Lewis is among those launching Black Friday deals early. The retailer is offering discounts in categories including home, clothing, gifts and electricals.
Non-food sales grew fast as shoppers appeared to have turned online to buy early for Christmas, according to the latest official data from the ONS. Clothing was the only sector where sales were still below pre-pandemic levels, as measured in February. But delivery companies are concerned that continuing high levels of online shopping will add pressure to them.
"Most sectors recovered to a higher level than February and feedback from various retailers informed us that consumers appeared to be shopping earlier for Christmas this year, which has helped boost sales," said the ONS Retail Sales report. "Clothing stores and fuel were the only sectors still below their pre-lockdown sales."