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Are Christmas shoppers deserting the high street?
5:00pm Thursday 19th December 2013 in News
ONLINE shopping may create extra trade for Oxfordshire businesses, but many traders say shoppers are still craving the traditional Christmas shopping experience.
For florist Sheila Bailey, owner of Walton Street shop Daisies, her website provides a large client base, especially around Christmas time.
But she says people still enjoy the tradition of Christmas shopping in person.
Ms Bailey, who has run the shop for 26 years, said her internet orders increase by 200 per cent around Christmas time, but that walk-in orders also go up by 100 per cent.
She said: “The website makes a huge difference for us, but I think people still like that interaction.
“The website is incredibly useful, because we have a lot of clients across the world who have relatives in Oxford, so it makes it very easy for them.
“But I think people still really like coming in, having a chat and sharing in some Christmas sociability.”
Ms Bailey said the festive look adopted by some shops was part of the attraction, but that others simply like the tradition of old-fashioned Christmas shopping.
She said: “I suppose part of the Christmas tradition is going back to places you have visited before, and going into shops.”
Janette Reed, who runs Cotswold Kids in Wesley Walk, Witney, and a pop-up shop selling baby and children’s items, is experiencing the same clamour for a hands-on and face-to-face experience when it comes to buying gifts.
She said: “I think perhaps certain things which are quite mundane are easier to sell and to buy online, but if people are trying to find something specific they actually want to see and feel and touch it before they buy it for their child or grandchild.
“It has been very mixed for us, but it has picked up recently.”
She said her business was also running a pop-up shop in Wantage, which was also doing well.
It’s a waiting game for stores
WITH less than a week until Christmas, some of Oxford’s retailers are eyeing half-empty park-and-ride buses and short till queues nervously.
Their biggest rival is online spending, which has reached a record high of £10bn per month in the UK.
Nationally, online sales for November were 10 per cent higher than last year, according to the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index.
It’s a sharp contrast with the drop of between three and four per cent in the number of visits to the UK’s high streets, out-of-town sites and shopping centres last month.
And ‘click and brick’, or ordering and paying online then collecting from a store, is proving increasingly popular for anyone who doesn’t want to hang about at home for a delivery.
There are signs that showrooming – where consumers go into a store, handle products and ask for advice from an assistant, before leaving to order the item from an online retailer – is happening more.
It doesn’t matter so much to big multiple chains, who have successful online operations but for smaller independents unable to compete on price, it’s a real problem.
And anyone with a smartphone can use one of the many apps which, once they’ve scanned the barcode, will tell them whether another shop has it cheaper.
Dr Jonathan Reynolds, academic director at the Oxford Institute of Retail Management at Oxford University’s Said Business School, said shoppers were holding off because they were waiting for prices to fall.
“People are careful with their money and hoping prices will come down,” he said.
“Some are leaving it until this weekend, the last weekend before Christmas, or even Monday and Tuesday next week, hoping to get last-minute bargains.”
Dr Reynolds added: “From the retailers’ point of view, it’s like a game of chicken.
“It’s a case of who is going to break ranks and slash their prices first?”
Many shops have already started sales, offering anything from 20 up to 50 per cent off, with clothing and some electrical products most heavily discounted.
But one area where there are no price cuts are tablets and games consoles, where demand is outstripping supply.
Frank Smith, store operations manager at family-owned independent Boswells in Broad Street said Friday and Saturday last week were busy but Sunday was quieter than expected.
He believes this coming weekend will prove more lucrative and says trade has been boosted by shoppers coming to the German market, also in Broad Street.
“People rely very heavily on being paid just before this coming weekend and the other factor is that they know they still have Monday and Tuesday to do their shopping,” he said.
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