Is online shopping declining? More West Midlands shoppers to use high street this Christmas

Is our love affair with online shopping on the way out?

West Bromwich High Street
West Bromwich High Street

The signs are that shoppers are becoming less click-happy as they look to take more care with their finances.

And with that more hesitant approach comes a desire to travel back to shops again, to physically check on goods and ensure that quality and value for money is just right.

According to experts, almost half of gift shopping by people in the West Midlands will be done in stores and on high streets this month.

That signals a welcome return to the high street and with it a boost for town and city centres that have increasingly struggled to compete with the convenience of online shopping, especially after a Covid lockdown in which people got out of the habit of 'going shopping'.

PricewaterhouseCoopers' annual Festive Predictions report, published today, has found that while the pandemic accelerated the shift to online shopping for Christmas presents, there has been a recovery in the preference for shopping in physical stores.

Following Black Friday, where PwC research found that 43 per cent of West Midlands consumers were interested in spending on the day, it is predicted that consumers are planning to slightly reduce their festive spending this year, with an average spend of £393 per adult in the UK, eight per cent less than last year’s £426. But more of the money being spent will be handed over at tills rather than through the mobile phone or computer screen.

Christmas Shoppers in Shrewsbury.

Sarah Phillips, PwC partner and consumer markets leader for the Midlands, said major shopping centres, such as the Bullring, Merry Hill, Telford and Shrewsbury should see a benefit.

She said: “Footfall should increase across high streets in the region this Christmas. Big events like the return of the Birmingham German Market, as well as other festive attractions put on again in town and city centres across the West Midlands will bring people in and that will have a positive impact.

"Whilst average spend per consumer in the UK is predicted to slightly decline, 45 per cent of those in the West Midlands are planning to head in store for their festive shopping, providing a boost to high street retailers and hospitality venues.”

PwC research shows that this year many consumers used Black Friday as an opportunity to start Christmas shopping, looking to make use of discounts when looking for gifts as the cost-of-living puts pressure on people’s disposable income.

Ms Phillips added: "This means that spending during December is likely to be lower and retailers should help their customers economise, while keeping Christmas special. Christmas dinner – and food and drink more generally – remain the key spending priorities, with almost as many people saying they will spend more as spend less.

"Our reaearch shows almost two thirds of people in the West Midlands will be hosting an extended or immediate family gathering this year, the highest proportion in the UK, showing that after two years’ of restrictions, spending time with loved ones is a priority for people in the region."

Retail experts also point to a growing cynicism among shoppers at the level of discount available online and whether the savings being advertised are genuine.

Price comparison website PriceSpy surveyed the trends in prices in the period ahead of Black Friday and noticed that online prices were artificially increased in the weeks ahead of the event so that they could then be advertised as discounted when the sales started.

This tactic of preparing for 'fake sales' is part of an increasing trend. Around 14 per cent of products tracked by PriceSpy increased in the weeks ahead of Black Friday and then were suddenly 'reduced'.

Figures for 2021 show that beauty was the worst-affected sector, with 22 per cent of all perfumes and 21 per cent of all skincare products featuring in fake sales. Others included computer components (18 per cent of all products), hiking and trekking footwear (16 per cent) and kitchen appliances (15 per cent).

“Our data indicates that fake sales on Black Friday in 2022 may have been much more widespread than in recent years,” says Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, the website’s UK manager.

Consumer magazine Which? goes further – it found that 99.5 per cent of products in supposed Black Friday “deals” were in fact cheaper or the same price at other times of the year.

The message appears to be that online discounts that appear too good to be true have probably been manipulated and that shoppers should do their research before committing to spending big.

And, of course, physically visiting shops allows you to touch and feel what you are buying, helping you to decide if you are really getting value for money.

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