Got it all wrapped up?

Krystal Blyth and Carly Dawson
Krystal Blyth and Carly Dawson
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Is this the Ghost of Christmas Future for our local high streets – deserted of shoppers while more stay at home shopping online?

There’s nothing to beat the buzz of Christmas shopping on the high street – but the ease of online shopping is becoming increasingly appealing particularly as more are cutting back for Christmas and opting for a more targeted or discount driven spend.

With 85 million visits made to online retailers daily, and some 1,000 purchases made a second – online retailers are committed to snatch and grab from their high street rivals with the level of promotions on a par with the “panic sales” of 2008.

Thousands flocked to local shopping centres at the weekend, sending the tills jingling during a gloomy economic climate. But many admit to buying more online – particularly men.

While surveys suggest bargain hunters will walk 30 miles shopping this Christmas and wait an hour and a half on average in queues – whether for car parks or shops – the deal conscious are deserting the streets to turn to the net to source their gifts.

There’s little surprise in the figure that 81 per cent of women find high street shopping trips enjoyable as opposed to 43 per cent of men.

Kevin Flood, co-founder and chief executive officer of Shopow, a comparison site (using customer feedback as well as prices) that sources deals via one search for a product from a bank of 22,000 retailers, reckons online shopping is also easier on the budget (or credit card) as it tends to be more targeted.

“Shoppers are on the hunt for deals but are increasingly looking online for big discounts and are sharing best finds with friends and family. It also allows retailers to be better informed of consumers feedback.”

The recession has led to an all out price war, on anything and everything from party food, to toys, and high street retailers are losing their nerve and opting for price slashes days ahead of the usual pre-Christmas sales in light of plummeting profit margins and rising online sales.

Carly Dawson, 28, of Blackpool, salon manager of My Second Image hair and wig salon, Cleveleys, agrees. “I’d say I’ve done about 70 per cent of my shopping online, books, CDs, DVDs and other things, using Amazon and Play.com mostly. It’s increased in the last two years. I try to be organised so started at the end of October. I visited the Trafford Centre and got the rest of my shopping there – in one fell swoop. Lytham is the nicest area locally for the smaller specialist shops I prefer. Asda’s my favourite supermarket for the discounts. I’d go into Blackpool for entertainment but not so much to shop.

“I like to have everything sorted by the first week in December. If I didn’t do that I’d panic. I buy for around 20 people but priorities change when you’ve got children. I also set limits. You have to if self employed. I also shop at discount stores, B&M and the like are very good for reduced brand name toys. Here at the salon we do a Secret Santa, and set a £40 limit on a gift. There are four of us and we draw a name of the person we’re buying for – and keep it quiet – so each of us get a gift of the same value. If we didn’t do that we’d probably spend more – and it’s more fun.”

Krystal Blyth, 26, of Fleetwood, whose son Ryan is eight on New Year’s Eve, buys for around 10 people, and shops mostly on the high street. “I’ve got a big family so can’t afford to go mad. I’m not keen on online shopping. I’m a bargain hunter, particularly for toys, and you can still get deals in local shops. I feel sorry for them. I think a lot look at stuff on sale in the shops and then buy online. I just wish we had more proper toy shops though.”

National disability consultant Stephen Brookes of Bispham buys services such as rail tickets and hotels online but gifts in person. “I find present buying better face to face at Freeport and the various local large stores with good discounts. Houndshill is great partly because it is accessible and it is also getting a better range of shops.”

Blackpool town centre manager Eileen Ormand shops online for presents from America, Egypt and Tunisia. “I am in the town centre daily so work lunch breaks around swift shopping. I’m normally finished by mid-November as I’m too busy at work. Late-night shopping is doing well and people started shopping earlier. The retail trade has really embraced the discount culture. Value for money tops most lists.”

Antony Johns, creative director for Blackpool Pleasure Beach, deep in panto season and the festive themed Nickelodeon, still makes time to hand craft cards for 350 friends. “I always think about the person I make the card for. I keep lists of gifts to avoid repeats. I’m old fashioned and don’t do much online apart from buying wrapping which I hate to carry, and Bettys of Harrogate hampers for friends I won’t get to see. I love the spirit of going to the shops. I do it all one day, plan the route according to size and weight.”