Online bargain hunters set for £2.7bn spending spree as stores count COVID-19 cost


Doors will stay shut on many stores for the traditional Boxing Day sales due to the coronavirus crisis, but shoppers are poised to splurge £2.7bn online, research indicates.

While retail experts expect footfall in the high street to plummet by more than 50% from 26 December last year, cyber bargain hunters plan to spend an average of £162 each post-Christmas, according to Barclaycard.

In areas where shops remain open the average planned spend in-store was lower at £78 per person.

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A survey carried out for the payment giant, which sees nearly half of the nation’s credit and debit card transactions, also revealed the majority of shoppers – 68% – will turn online for the sales, even where non-essential stores are open.

Of those in lower tiers, when asked about the impact of stricter COVID-19 lockdown measures being introduced in their area and non-essential stores closing, almost a third (29%) said they planned to spend the same amount, moving all of their spend online instead.

The findings underline the growing trend for online shopping, which has been accelerated by the coronavirus emergency, and the shift away from walk-in shops.

Rob Cameron, chief executive of Barclaycard Payments, said: “The Boxing Day and post-Christmas sales are much-loved British traditions and, following a tough year, retailers will be encouraged to see that shoppers are feeling generous this festive season.

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“Although merchants continue to face challenges, we know that many bricks-and-mortar stores have invested in their e-commerce offering to ensure they’re as prepared as possible for the digital sales rush.

“While high street footfall will be down, we’re optimistic that an online shopping boost will give retailers a much-needed uplift as they head into the New Year.”

However, it is traditional retailers which are bearing the economic brunt of the crisis, with enforced store closures costing businesses £2bn a week, according to the industry.

The sector is demanding government help, including the extension of business rates relief next year.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Tier 4 restrictions come only two weeks after the last national lockdown and retailers face the prospect of losing £2bn per week in sales for the third time this year.

“This is a blow, right in the middle of peak Christmas trading which so many are depending on to power their recovery.

“The government will need to offer additional financial support to help these businesses get back on an even keel – an extension to business rates relief in 2021 is the best place to start.”

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COVID-19: The economic virus

In the face of the restrictions, Diane Wehrle of retail intelligence experts Springboard, told Sky News: “We are looking at a drop of over 50% in footfall from last year on Boxing Day.”

But she did point out the importance of the Boxing Day sales had already been in decline in recent years, with the growth of online and hospitality leading to 27 December becoming the more popular for trawling the shops for bargains.

Ironically, she believed the pandemic and the impact on the Christmas plans of families may actually reverse the trend this year, with people anxious to get out the house and where possible enjoy some “retail therapy”.

She added: “What we will see I think is rather than 27 December being the better day in terms of footfall which it has in the past, it may well be that Boxing Day is stronger this year because people are so desperate to get out and to have a bit of normality.”

The survey for Barclaycard was carried out by Opinium Research based on 2,001 respondents.

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