I dream of a January 2019 where the news feeds are dominated by positive stories of retailers posting strong Xmas trading figures and looking forward to continued growth in the year ahead. 2018 has largely been dominated by negative stories of closures and the removal of a number of retailers from our retail landscape, so I am not convinced that my dream will become a reality.
The ringing church bells depicted in the blog’s title are more likely to be for funerals marking the death of some more familiar high street brands. Incidentally, the title to this blog was shamelessly stolen from an unfinished Christmas Carol that my younger brother John penned when he was in Primary School as part of a national competition.
Doing it for the kids
In recent years my siblings and I have agreed to only provide presents for the children. Prior to the adult present ban, it was customary for at least one member of the family to be disappointed, so in came the traditional asking people what they would like approach to Xmas shopping. This process resulted in the removal of any semblance of thought and surprise to the whole affair and somewhat detracted from the whole point of Xmas.
The ease of online
The internet has made things a whole lot easier with an endless stream of suggestions, recommendations and bargains all at your fingertips on your smartphone. I have lost count of the number of people who brag about doing all of their Xmas shopping online. I have been in a presentation to a major shopping centre where most of the attendees admitted to using online as their principal means for Xmas shopping. Only last week I was involved in a discussion about someone who bought a £2.50 pair of shoe laces for next day delivery on Amazon Prime as it was deemed more convenient than going to a local store. What price will we pay for online ‘convenience’?
Prime of life
It’s hard to write a blog about Xmas shopping without referencing Amazon’s role. In the US approximately 60% of all Amazon shoppers are now paying for the Amazon Prime Service, and at least 70% of Americans with incomes of $150,000 or more have Amazon Prime. It wasn’t that long ago that to me home delivery seemed like a massive inconvenience. You were more likely to get the product at an inconvenient time or on a day you weren’t at home, with the added bonus of a trip to the local collection depot to retrieve your parcel. Now we have every means possible to ensure that Amazon can deliver your parcel (via your work, preferred safe place, a neighbour, or a locker). Newer additions to the Prime app include a live update as to where your deliver is. My delivery is currently 7 stops away right now.
An inconvenient truth
How can we all contribute in our own little way to the ongoing challenge (and opportunity) of online, particularly its impact on local bricks and mortar retail? Let’s start by looking at other initiatives closer to home. In a bid to support the dwindling number of independent record stores we now have a Record Store Day (ironically an initial online search about record day brings up Amazon as the first link) which will be on the 13thApril in 2019. We now have an Independents’ day (4thJuly!) and an Independents’ Month (July). My suggestion, which will have to be implemented for Xmas 2019, would be to ban all online Xmas present purchases and encourage buying from local, ideally, independent retailers. It’s like a Retro December where everyone makes an effort to pretend the internet doesn’t exist (delete the app for the month!) and take time to really think about what people may like for Xmas and how you go about sourcing locally. The process will take longer but it should be much more rewarding. It will also likely eliminate those embarrassing situations where two people have bought the same present for someone.
Keep it local
Partially switching our behaviour from online to bricks and mortar in December will help but retailers generally cannot survive on one months’ strong trading. These independent retailers can’t often compete on price alone, they have to differentiate on service and quality. Supporting your local independents has the double benefit of keeping the local retail offer vibrant and fresh (do we want a clone high street?) and are a proven way to maximise the retention of spend in the local economy. These local shop keepers are there for advice (the service element) and may even help with recommendations on suitable presents for your loved ones.
So how will you do your Christmas shopping this year? Maybe you have already finished and are feeling a little smug as everyone else panic buys off Amazon? Well even if your Xmas shopping is a wrap for this year (excuse the pun!) it is worth considering your shopping tactics for next Xmas and maybe make it a local one.
Author: Steve Halsall, Director, Red Tiger Consulting