Shoppers are being urged to buy early this year for online Christmas gifts.
With three months to go before the big day, the online retail industry is gearing up for a huge surge in demand.
It’s warning that firms may struggle to cope if we leave all our festive shopping till the last minute.
“We think the volumes are going to be really very excessive this year,” said Andy Mulcahy from IMRG, the industry body for online retailers.
“Whilst that in itself is not a problem, getting too much of it too close to Christmas is going to be a bit of a problem,” he said.
“If you can spread out your shopping and do quite a lot of it in November, maybe even a bit of it now, then that would really help.”
Even before lockdown, online sales in the first months of 2020 were roughly 5% higher than last year.
‘No need to panic buy’
But since Covid-19 hit, the numbers have soared, with growth rates of around 40-50%, according to IMRG. And they’ve remained high ever since.
“At this point, I think we can expect an increase of at least 30% for the peak festive trading season, but if stores have to close this might push to 50%, ” Mr Mulcahy thinks.
But he stressed that here’s no need for shoppers to panic buy – as there’s still plenty of time before the big day.
So how will retailers and logistics companies manage this huge potential uplift in the run up to Christmas?
“It’s been like Christmas for the last six months for us,” said Mike Hancox, the boss of delivery firm Yodel.
It is one of the UK’s biggest parcel couriers handling more than 150 million packages a year. But it had to adapt quickly in March, even partnering with taxi firms at one stage to help deliver the extra packages.
Yodel’s now preparing for a period of sustained demand this autumn and winter as shoppers flock online for convenience as social distancing restrictions remain in place.
It’s adding 2,500 self-employed drivers and nearly 500 staff in its sorting centres across the UK to bolter its operations.
“We think it will be the biggest online Christmas ever, by some way,” Mr Hancox said. “Certainly at Yodel it will be our biggest ever year. We’re planning for success and I think every other delivery carrier will be expecting the same.”
He’s planning on handling a million extra parcels in the busiest week.
But with rising unemployment and uncertainty over future coronavirus measures, many families may feel less able or willing to spend.
The boss of Boots, Seb James, admits he “just doesn’t know” what demand will look like – but there are three things he does feel sure about.
“Firstly, it will be much more online, so we’ve tripled our online capacity,” he said.
“The second thing is people are going to be much more anxious about money so value is going to be much more important this Christmas.
“And the third thing is that everyone has to shop safely… we won’t be able to cram people in as we normally do at Christmas, we have to be very careful,” he said.
One of its new safety measures will be bookable out-of-hours shopping slots for customers over 60. Boots is also going early with some festive ranges, which are already in stores. Mr James says this was in response to customer demand.
“I think people are planning ahead and they’re right to do so. Last minute cramming is just not going to work… we hope that people will spread out their shopping.”
John Lewis’s online Christmas shop opened in August after a spike in searches by customers.
And it has already seen a surge in sales for some products. The company says sales of trees were up 233% at the end of last week, compared with the previous year. Christmas decorations, meanwhile, were up 156%.
Who knows how jolly this festive season will be. But one thing seems clear, it will be the most digital one yet for shopping.