Online retail hot spot: the best time to shop for Christmas gifts

Picking gifts for loved ones isn’t quite as simple as it looks, whether you’re on holiday or home. Christmas is likely to be the busiest time of year for UK shoppers, with 8 million on the hunt for presents, which will average £180 each.

The biggest sellers will be small electric items, home improvements and towels – and shoppers are preparing for the surge by going on a spending binge.

Over 2 million consumers have made plans to blow the budget for festive gifts, after surveys indicated that personal spending will grow.

Recent research from HSBC showed there will be 4.3 million more people this year taking a holiday, with 57% planning to take a trip over the festive period. With consumer confidence at a nine-year high and an expected 2% rise in Christmas spending, many are under orders to spend, making it likely that consumers will put gifts on hold until closer to the holidays.

While many retailers are launching winter-themed discounts, it is not the time to buy technology gift baskets – about £5 on average – or discounted merchandise for big-box stores such as Argos and the Homebase-Sainsbury’s tie-up. Chalk up a £5,000 flip phone for Christmas, or substitute a £70 digital camera for an £18 camera flash.

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Stampedes could be a risky business this year, with more people using credit and debit cards to part with their cash, compared with last year. Some 48% of people will use a card or plastic for holiday cash compared with 41% in 2017, according to statistics from Visa.

Alex Foulds, editor of Christmascare magazine, said: “Retailers are prepared for a boom in spending this year and will be targeting customers with online promotions which will appear in their emails, text messages and social media.”

Recent research by the British Retail Consortium found 28% of people go to a store looking for Christmas presents, but 22% have already bought gifts online, with the likes of John Lewis and Asda launching a “big trade in” period to encourage people to recycle and return what they have already bought.

A whopping £72bn of presents will be purchased this year, according to the BRC and PwC. This has more than doubled since 2007, when the average spend was £34bn, and is expected to be slightly higher this year.

Some shoppers have been toiling away on their Christmas list for weeks before the “big day” – the average person spends four days away from the office before they leave for the holiday, according to research from insurance giant Lloyds Bank.

A spokesman for Lloyds says: “Gifting can be a stressful process and, with so many people using credit cards, it might not be the best choice for every family member. It is important to buy into gift buying early in the year to avoid putting a strain on your finances.”

Gift vouchers, now available on many websites, are becoming more popular, although it might be prudent to try before you buy. Matt Jenkins, Lloyds’ head of communications, says: “Our research indicates that 8% of people will now buy a voucher for their Christmas dinner as a way of avoiding the stress of buying into your list.”

Although many are trying to beat the rush for gift giving, others are planning to take part in online “flash sales”, with deals available to shoppers on major platforms such as Asos and Very.co.uk.

Another new trend at the moment is to post gift-wrapping supplies, such as card and ribbon, so shoppers can save time.

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Asos, the main player in the online gift-wrapping market, now allows shoppers to pre-order, with click-and-collect facilities. The site says pre-booked gifts will go on offer for £4.99 and shoppers need to add 50p to the order amount.

Waitrose also allows shoppers to pre-order and allow a one-hour window after placing an order, which allows them to return an item in any store and receive a full refund.

To avoid a gap between the delivery date and arrival time of the gift, you can try ordering with Shoomr. The service sends handwritten thank-you notes in the post to the recipient, before it sends them parcels. The cost is £4.99.

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