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Could UK postal strikes affect online sales this Christmas?

Alex Christie

28 September 2009

Although for the most of us Christmas still seems a long way off, we can correctly assume that retailers are already well into their festive marketing strategies. Only this week I saw my first 2009 selection box stacked neatly in the supermarket amongst other suitable ‘gifts’. And we can expect alot more in the coming weeks as retailers execute tried and tested strategies to get us, as the consumer, to open our wallets that little bit longer and reach a little deeper to hit the all important Christmas sales targets. Only it seems that, based on recent events, someone is determined to spoil the retailers’ party…

As we come to the end of another week of postal disruption, both consumers and businesses are continuing to be affected by the local strike action taking place with little indication as to if and when it is likely to be resolved. This is a particularly depressing thought to online retailers, particularly those pure play e-tailers, who rely on the Royal Mail service to deliver their goods to their customers and for the Christmas period to drive a large amount of their yearly sales.

UK_Internet_traffic_to_online_only_high_street_retailers_2005_2008_Christmas

Year on year we see a steep decline in the amount of traffic entering retailers’ sites following the lead up to Christmas. If this Christmas peak does not reach it’s full potential due to uncontrollable circumstances, we can expect that the closely followed trough could have a severe impact on the online only businesses.

And businesses aren’t the only ones likely to suffer… Evidence indicates that consumer’s buying behaviour is moving further online on a yearly basis, with online retail spend increasing by 14.2% in December 2008 vs December 2007 (HitWise 2009). Without an alternative, customers may be put off placing their orders online and altering their own behaviour in order to be sure that they have their gifts in time. Suddenly, all that online retail stands for is tarnished… the ease, the speed, the reliability of the online process is irreversibly damaged.

Perhaps it’s a little too early to predict an online catastrophe, but it will be interesting to see what actions online retailers will take to ensure that trust is not lost and we all have a very happy Christmas.

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