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Christmas 2018: A round-up of UK ecommerce stats and insight

This blog was first written in 2016, and we have updated it to reflect on Christmas 2018.

We’ve collated the key predictions, data and insight you need to know about the Christmas period, a critical period in every Ecommerce Director’s calendar.

What were people predicting?

1. Online Sales Rising

Deloitte estimated that online sales were likely to rise between 17-22% during the 2018 holiday season, with 78% of consumers planning to spend more or the same amount as the previous year. Retail Insight Network also stated that online pure-plays, such as Amazon, would prove popular again thanks to their best-in-class shopping experience.

Referring to the predicted rise in online sales, John Copeland, Head of Marketing and Customer Insights at Adobe said “As online shopping surges with another record-breaking holiday season, the retailers with compelling websites coupled with physical store locations will have the advantage”.

Not only was it predicted that Christmas online sales would rise in general, but also specifically Black Friday sales. IMRG predicted that £1.54bn would be spent online during Black Friday (which is an impressive 13.2% increase on the previous year), and £8.1bn to be spent during Black Friday week (which is 12.5% up on the previous year).

37% of people planned to spend less than £300 at Christmas (2018), and only 13% planned to spend over £700, according to Statista.

2. Mobile and tablet traffic continuing to dominate

In Christmas 2016, Captify, as reported in Internet Retailing, predicted we would see record levels of shoppers using their mobiles as their preferred device for shopping, and in Christmas 2018, Deloitte predicted that mobile usage for online shopping was growing the fastest, with 67% of consumers making a purchase via mobile.  Predictions pointed to mobile finally overtaking desktop as the main source of online sales across the entire peak period.

Salesforce also predicted that mobile devices would dominate both traffic and orders for the entire Christmas season (68% of traffic and 46% of orders), with mobile’s reach being especially felt on Black Friday, with 46% of orders expected to be made through mobile. They also predicted that on Christmas Eve, shoppers would return to their phones for 72% of visits and 54% of orders. This outlines the importance of online retailers ensuring their mobile site is optimised and ready for this peak season.

What actually happened?

Online sales saw a subdued increase

Individual, daily data for Christmas and Boxing Day is hard to come by, with most retailers announcing results for December, or Q4 as a whole. But the data available still gives us a good idea of shopping trends over the festive season.  

  • Visa’s UK Consumer Spending Index states that the growth in ecommerce spend in December 2018 remained relatively subdued, with online expenditure only rising 0.5% year-on-year.

  • IMRG Capgemini Sales Index reports that UK online retail sales in December saw just a 3.6% year-on-year growth

  • Shoppers spent £1.96 billion online in December with UK retailers – equivalent to a fifth of all retail spending according to Internet Retailing

  • Better than expected trading figures released on ‘Super Thursday’ suggested a strong online showing for UK retailers given that Ipsos Retail Performance indicator results showed retail footfall down 9.3% in December 2016 compared with 2015 – the lowest level ever recorded for the month of December.

  • Footfall dropped again in the lead up to Christmas – with a 0.1% decrease in footfall from the same period in 2017, and whilst this only sounds like a small decline, it comes off the back of a 7.6% decline year-on-year for retailers in 2017.

  • Some companies, such as Next, reported a rise in online sales for its Christmas trading period – online sales rose 15.2% year on year.

  • Black Friday didn’t prove as successful as predicted, as according to IMRG it failed to rejuvenate consumer spending across the month and UK retail sales suffered its worst November growth since 2011, and the lowest ever growth for a Black Friday week. With Bhavesh Unadkat, principal consultant in retail customer engagement, at Capgemini saying “Despite high conversion this month where all weeks saw an increase in orders, the drop in average basket value has impacted the sales growth, suggesting that extended promotions have had an impact on revenue this year.

  • However, Black Friday did see online channels experience record-breaking sales, with Amazon selling 100,000 toys and 60,000 beauty products in the UK by mid-morning on Black Friday.

  • Smartphones accounted for over 70% of mobile device sales for the first time ever in December 2018, with 30% being on tablets (PCR).

People were a lot more cautious when spending for Christmas 2018, and the BBC put this down to uncertainties surrounding Brexit. They also said shoppers are now a lot more savvy, and expected retailers to offer more discounts the closer it got to Christmas – some High Street retailers began discounting 12 days before Christmas.

Drapers report that consumer spending dropped to 1.2% in February 2019, compared to 3.8% in February 2018, as the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Brexit causes shoppers to cut back.

How was Christmas trading for you?

This digest collates country-wide trends. But what did your numbers look like? Did they conform with what others saw or did your trading go against the grain? We’d love to hear from you, leave a comment below sharing your findings.

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