Personal Finance

UK Xmas Shopping Stats, Habits & Trends (2020)

It’s that time of year again, as Black Friday marks the unofficial start of Christmas shopping all around the world.

That’s right! Unless you have already started your holiday shopping or are currently working hard on a home-made gift, then it is time to start thinking about presents for all of the loved ones in your life!

This time of year, every year, retail sales and online spending boom around the holiday season throughout the world.

Here in the UK, this is no different, as every December consumers flock to physical and digital markets for Christmas presents and other seasonal gifts.

Of course, 2020 maybe a little bit different. As this year has been one of the most significant times in recent history, this December many people are changing their holiday shopping routine.

In this article, we will explore the details of Christmas shopping statistics in the UK, before analyzing how COVID has impacted this year’s landscape.

UK Christmas Shopping Statistics, Habits & Trends

Alright, let’s dive right into the numbers. There is a ton of information out there about spending habits and trends across the UK, so here are some of the most significant Christmas shopping statistics in recent history.

Spending Volume has been Increasing Year over Year

Yes, according to the Centre for Retail Research, total spending volume for Christmas shopping increased year over year in both 2018 and 2019. Here are the exact statistics that the agency was able to collect:

  • 2018: £76.911 billion spent (2.17% increase from 2017)
  • 2019: £78.580 billion spent (2.97% increase from 2018)

Now before you try to comprehend how Christmas spending in the UK adds up to nearly £80 billion each year, it’s good to know that this trend is global, as France, Germany, and the United States have also seen increased spending volume over the last 2 years.

According to the same statistics, each of these countries also saw a 2.3%, 1%, and 3.93% increase in total spending volume in 2019.

The UK Spends more on Technology then Anything Else

If you asked for a new iPhone last year, then you are not alone. Many market analyses, including this study from the Statista Research Department, have shown that the UK spends more on technology and mobile devices than any other kind of holiday gift.

With the significant launch of new gaming hardware in 2020, we do not feel as if this trend will cease anytime soon.

Aside from technology and mobile devices, most Christmas spending in the UK tends to apply to one of the following categories:

  • Experiences and travel
  • Home goods and improvements
  • Jewellery
  • Apparel and accessories
  • or sporting goods and toys

Of course, in 2020, experiences and travel may be a little different than they were before Covid. We’ll get into this a little bit more later.

Brick and Mortar Retailers are Still King, For Now

Even with the advent of Cyber Tuesday and other online gimmicks, the Centre for Retail Research has still found that in both 2018 and 2019, physical shopping centres were still responsible for the majority of Christmas sales.

In markets, malls, and stores throughout the UK, shoppers purchased £53.813 billion in Christmas gifts in 2018 and £53.150 in 2019. Comparatively, online sales totalled £23.098 billion and £25.431 billion, respectively.

With this in mind, the past two years have seen retail store sales double that of online sales in the UK.

However, this may or may not last as retail sales have been trending down across the world. In the UK, you can see from the statistics above that retail sales have dropped approximately 1.5%.

Online Retail Shopping is Growing… Fast

This should come as little to no surprise to most people, both online shopping is growing in both the UK and around the world.

In the same study from the Centre for Retail Research, Christmas shopping in the UK, Germany, France, and the United States has been trending towards online retail at alarming rates.

In fact, 2019 saw double-digit year over year growth in online shopping in each of these parts of the world. Here are the numbers for the UK:

  • 2018 online shopping total: £23.098 billion
  • 2019 online shopping total: £25.431 billion
  • Year over year growth: 10.1%

While this may seem like a lot, 10.1% was actually the smallest year over year growth when compared to Germany, France, and the US.

Although this trend was already expected to continue, it is easy to assume that 2020 will see record growth in online retail sales.

How much does the average person spend on Christmas presents in the UK?

In 2019, the average UK resident set aside approximately £363 for spending specifically on Christmas presents for family and friends.

According to the Independent, this figure was calculated as an average based on 2,000 people surveyed.

Of course, the spending does not stop there, as the same study showed that statistically, people in the UK will spend £725 in total on Christmas presents, decorations, festivities, events and more.

With this in mind, roughly half of all Christmas spending is spent directly on gifts.

What COVID means for UK Christmas Shopping in 2020

Covid, covid-19, coronavirus, however you say it, you’re tired of hearing it. 2020 has reshaped the global society with many people spending more time at home and less time in public places than ever before.

While it is safe to say that most people spend more time in video conferences rather than shopping malls these days, buying gifts from digital stores is how many Christmas shoppers may be spending their holiday bonuses.

High Street is Disappearing Before Our Eyes

Tragically, the longstanding tradition of Christmas shopping on high streets across all of London’s boroughs has become increasingly difficult this year.

While shop closures across the country became somewhat commonplace in 2019, 2020 has only accelerated the number of retailers that have been forced to shut their doors for the final time.

In fact, when you look at the statistics, it is actually quite ugly. According to The Guardian, as many as 18,000 UK high street premises may be shut down due to the Covid pandemic. With this staggering amount of retailers closing, 14% of the UK’s high street real estate market would be vacant.

According to the article, this is the highest vacancy rate the UK has seen since 2013.

Lockdowns and the Aftermath

Naturally, the reduction in high street markets has been increased since lockdowns have enforced UK residents to spend less time in public places.

With limitations on store capacity, social distancing requirements, and more prevent store’s to operate as normal, retailers closing has been commonplace across the country since April.

In order to combat this from happening, the UK has actually now allowed shops in England to be open for 24 hours a day in the days leading up to Christmas.

Although this gesture is likely to drum up more business for traditional shopping spaces, the atmosphere around the stores may actually cause many Christmas shoppers to continue to stay home.

As a result of current guidelines, many shoppers fear that stores will not be able to accommodate proper social distancing regulations nor be able to police the people within the stores to follow such rules.

Even if they are able to do so, shoppers may have to deal with long queues and limited product availability as a result of Covid health and safety best practices.

The Acceleration of Online Spending Due to Covid

Somewhat obviously, and as we’ve mentioned before, Covid has rapidly increased the amount of online shopping this year.

For the holiday season in 2020, consumers are clicking through to their online checkouts more than ever, as eCommerce sales are up nearly 35% nationwide. This figure is expected to grow as the days get closer to Christmas.

While this haunting figure is gloom and doom for many physical retailers, the shift to digital commerce actually comes with a few surprising trends that are not all that bad.

Instead, the landscape is simply changing. For instance, in 2020, the Royal Mail is seeking 33,000 seasonal workers to help with parcel delivery, which is the largest amount of temporary employment ever sought by the organization.

Of course, online spending is not limited to buying presents. 2020 has found may consumers even doing their grocery shopping digitally, purchasing items in an app and having them delivered to the door.

As Covid has paved the way for contactless delivery, it is likely that many UK residents will utilize these services this holiday season and for years to come.

Christmas Gifts in the time of Covid

So, what do you buy for someone in the age of Covid?

Although we mentioned earlier that travel and experiences were one of the largest spending sectors for UK Christmas shopping, the landscape has certainly changed this year.

While many travel agencies are taking deposits for trips in the future, this could be the year that digital experiences such as streaming subscriptions, video games, and more dominate the markets.

If you are not planning on hosting your annual holiday party, then that means you’ve saved a lot of potential money on food, event space, decorations and more.

With this in mind, you may be able to stretch your budget a little further and purchase all of the lounge clothing, entertainment, food, and alcohol that people in 2020 need the most.

Final Thoughts

While the Christmas shopping statistics in the UK over the past few years have shown a trend towards digital markets, the popularity of shopping online is no longer merely that of pure convenience.

Instead, lockdowns and health concerns have made physical retail shopping in the UK both less possible and potentially dangerous this December.

Although the retailers and stores that have survived the pandemic may remain open, many projections indicate that a purely digital holiday could be the final nail in the coffin for some shops struggling to pay for their retail space.

On the other hand, we have now perhaps entered the golden age for online delivery services that create jobs and sustain local businesses.

No matter how you spend your holidays, we encourage you to stay safe and enjoy the conclusion to one of the most significant years in recent history.

About author

Fully qualified CISI Investment adviser for 5 year. Managed UK private client portfolios.
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