‘Tis the season to be jolly on high street

It might not be the first e-Christmas, but 2011 looks set to be another boom year for online festive spending. According to a poll by hosting company Rackspace, 90% of UK adults plan to buy at least some of their presents via the Web in the next few weeks, an 18% increase on last year.
Moreover, two-thirds plan to buy half or more of their presents online, with a total of £6.85bn due to be spent digitally. We’re also informed by various organisations (mostly in the smartphone space) that this will be the first true m-Christmas, with more people using their handsets to splash the cash than ever before.
This is all well and good, and wise marketers who are already implementing online plans – or those hastily shifting their budgets to what appear to be the most profitable channels – may slap themselves on the back come the new year for harvesting bumper profits from the healthy crop of digital shoppers. But thumb through the nationals, flick through websites and trawl the search engines for predictions about offline spend, and you’d be hard pressed to find anything at all.
It’s a curious consequence of the explosion of online shopping that the humble high street, not to mention mail order, is virtually overlooked by shopper surveys or TV journalists commenting on images of the seething mass of humanity bustling down London’s Oxford Street. But should the marketing community – and those that supply it – really be ignoring more traditional methods of swelling the coffers at Christmas?
Of course not; the tills will still ring instore whatever the size of the nation’s collective online purchase. It’s more a case of where brands should place their budgets. Throwing Acxiom’s hat into the ring, we’ve used proprietary household finance and retail data to plot the effects of predicted regional spend on shopping centres – be that local high streets or the ‘mega malls’ – up and down the country.
The results show that the big retail centres won’t have things all their own way. While they may not exactly struggle, they have reduced access to the higher-spending catchment areas of the country compared to some of the smaller town centre shopping zones (mainly in the North-East and South-West, according to our analysis) which will be able to mop up some of the extra spend.
For marketers, this means looking beyond the obvious, seemingly safe bets. Smaller or unheralded retail centres look likely to profit from local communities that are willing to splash out the highest percentages of their income in December, so they should not be ignored. And that means having a joined-up ecommerce and retail strategy in place: make sure there is no fatal slip ‘twixt bricks and clicks.

Ian McCawley is a marketing consultant at Acxiom UK & Europe

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