Consumers flock online to avoid Xmas crush

Santa Claus may need to supplement his traditional postbag with a laptop computer this year as two in five Britons say they will be doing at least some of their Christmas shopping online.

As conventional high-street retailers brace themselves for what some expect to be a fall in seasonal sales, Internet outlets like and eBay look set to benefit from shoppers who prefer to do their shopping from home, consultants Mintel said on Friday.

Some 38 percent of adults will be doing some or all of their Christmas shopping online, almost double the 2001 figure of 22 percent, Mintel said.

And 15 percent of Britons now regard the Internet as their preferred shopping channel for Christmas purchases, half as many again as those who expressed the same preference last year.

Although increasing numbers of shoppers are preferring to do their shopping from home to avoid the queues and car parking nightmares, technology was also playing its part, Mintel's Richard Perks said.

"There has been an impressive increase in the number of households with broadband, which has made shopping on line a lot easier," Perks said.

"These broadband users also tend to be younger and more affluent and as such are likely to really push the boat out, giving online retailers even more to shout about this Christmas," he added.


Defying the doom-mongers, Mintel believes the average consumer will increase spending by almost 10 percent to 366 pounds on presents this year, with almost one in five spending at least 500 pounds.

But Perks said that traditional town centre retailers may suffer as the Internet players and Tesco, the country's top grocer that is steadily increasing its non-food sales, account for all of the growth in the market.

Recent retail indicators have turned out to be more optimistic than many had feared earlier in the year.

Figures from retail business information group FootFall showed on Tuesday a 7.1 percent week-on-week jump in overall shopper numbers for the week to December 4, although there were still fewer shoppers in the country's malls and high streets than in the comparable week in 2004.

And retail information group SPSL drew similar conclusions as its Retail Traffic Index of shopper numbers increased 4.3 percent in November compared with October.

A recent cold snap and heavy discounting by the retailers are two reasons that shopper numbers may be holding up, but Perks said Christmas spending was always in less danger than, for example, home improvements or big-ticket electricals like washing machines or freezers.

"There's less mortgage equity withdrawal, but we're still earning more and employment levels are high. It's not that bad. Consumer confidence took a big knock last year but this year it seems to be back again," he said.

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