Christmas period smashes online retail records

By Chris Lee

Early discounting from UK retailers led to the “biggest and busiest” ever Christmas for online sales, according to respected Internet researcher Experian. The group used its Experian Hitwise tool to analyse figures from UK Internet activity and found that UK Internet users made 84 million visits to retail websites on Christmas Eve, 107 million visits on Boxing Day and 113 million visits on Boxing Day.

The figures represent an 86 per cent rise for Christmas Eve over the same day in 2011, a 71 per cent rise for Christmas Day and a comparatively modest 17 per cent increase for Boxing Day over the previous year.

Head for the sales

According to Experian, one in every 125 searches conducted in the UK on Christmas Eve included the word “sale” or “sales”. The four leading brand-related sales searches included those for retailers Next, Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, and John Lewis.

Christmas Eve was expected to be much bigger in 2012 as it fell on a Monday and was therefore a working half-day for many but the real figures “dwarfed” original predictions of a 32 per cent year-on-year increase, Experian said.

The company’s digital insights manager, James Murray, said that Christmas is proving to be a peak time for online shopping in the UK, so marketers need to make sure their campaigns are in place to maximise traffic on across these days in the future as consumers make the most of early sales offers.

“It’s worth promoting special offers through email and social media. Understanding what people are interested in, the best channels to engage customers through and when to reach them will be crucial to success this over future festive seasons,” he said.

Boxing Day highs

Boxing Day saw a Britons spend 14 million hours shopping online, Experian said, attributing “sales creep” and early discounting by major UK retailers over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as having impacted Boxing Day’s figures.

High volumes of visits ahead of Boxing Day can also be attributed to consumers becoming savvier in their sales shopping strategies, using the Internet to research the best deals before heading to the high street to purchase, according to Experian.

Murray said that Boxing Day was “slightly muted” due to the success of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and was therefore “not as prolific” as Experian had originally forecast.

Christmas Eve has traditionally been one of the poorest performing days of December for online retailers, but this year there were 84 million visits – on a par with last year’s Cyber Monday,” he continued. “The UK ‘sales creep’ continues to advance so that now the post-Christmas sales are starting before Christmas! Five years ago we called it the January sales, before it became the Boxing Day sales, now retailers have to call it the winter sales as discounting starts earlier to encourage higher spending.”

Overall 2012 was still the biggest Christmas online ever and should finish 30 per cent ahead of Christmas 2011 in terms of visits, Experian concluded.

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