Monday, November 29

Shop until your fingers hurts

We’ve less than two weeks remaining in London. As I reflect on over the last five years I can see several lifestyle changes that have evolved progressively over time. Perhaps the most revolutionary change has been the growing volume of shopping we’ve done online.

In Australia we rarely bought anything online beyond the occasional book, air ticket or hotel reservation. We generally visited showrooms and stores in person to view and purchase almost everything, even if we’d conducted some initial online research. This practice was made easier by the fact that most stores can be found in malls and showrooms, often concentrated in industrial parks.

London has few such malls; instead shops tend to cluster randomly along suburban high streets. Industrial parks in a city the size of London also tend to be highly distributed, rarely anywhere close in the inner city. This retail landscape generally makes visiting a store or showroom impractical. A store can easily be located more than 30 miles away on the opposite side of the city. Driving there typically involves running a gauntlet of heavy traffic through narrow, randomly routed streets. It’s a stressful experience consuming most of the day.

As a result, shopping online soon becomes a far easier proposition. Over the last five years we’ve begun buying more and more merchandise online; groceries, linen, computer supplies, digital cameras, saucepans and small furniture items. Shopping online has also exposed us to a richer variety of options for even the most common of purchases, often at a price that cannot be matched in-store. I suspect we may never shop the same way again once we’re back in Australia.

Online retailers claim last Monday was their busiest shopping day ever as consumers spent an unbelievable £537 million over a 24-hour period. The burst of online spending reflected the last guaranteed delivery date for most retailers before Christmas Day. According to the Centre for Retail Research, between now and Christmas, UK consumers will spend an estimated £11.6 billion on internet shopping – up 29% over last year.

However,while we may be shopping online more than ever, I suspect that retailers on London’s Oxford and Regent Streets aren’t too concerned. Yesterday traffic was banned from both streets turning the central city into a giant pedestrian zone for a day. New reports claim that at least one million Christmas shopper had spent more than £200 million by the time the tills closed.

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