Belfast Telegraph

Retailers feeling the heat as internet sales explode

By Claire McNeilly

Online retail sales in Northern Ireland are rising faster than ever before, with leading economists predicting that they will hit £50m this month alone.

That’s an 11.1% increase on the same period last year (£45m), while total internet sales across the province are expected to rise from £402m in 2011 to £461m by the end of 2012.

The Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) provided the statistics for the Belfast Telegraph as local retailers were bracing themselves for the backlash from the two biggest internet shopping days of the year.

‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ — American traditions now gaining a foothold in the UK — mark the start of a three-week-long swathe of massive discounts on websites and have become hugely popular with shoppers seeking bargains on goods in the run-up to Christmas.

Multinational companies such as Amazon and Apple have been pushing to replicate their Stateside Black Friday and Cyber Monday success in the UK since 2010, and every year’s cyberspace sales war has produced record figures.

That’s great news for bargain-hunting internet surfers — who can get huge discounts on items such as computers, televisions and smartphones — but bad tidings for those traditional high street traders hoping to rescue another disappointing year.

A Belfast Telegraph survey of some of the most popular toys for Christmas, based on a selection from the Toys Retailers Association, also found that almost all were cheaper on the internet.

Local retail expert Donald McFetridge has warned that burgeoning online sales — Northern Ireland’s November figure, for instance, is expected to increase by 11% on last year from £45m to £50m — will continue to send independent retailers to the wall.

“Cyberland is the new retail utopia and every pound spent there is a pound which is not being spent on our high streets,” Mr McFetridge said.

“Consumers need to remember that every time they click on ‘proceed to checkout’ or ‘place order’ they are potentially damaging the future prospects of high street retailers.

“But, at the end of the day, consumers are keen to get the best product at the best price and if that happens to be sourced online, few (if any) really care about the future of the high street or our town centres.”

Black Friday — so-called because it marks an opportunity for traders to get their sales figures out of the red and into the black — falls on the day after Thanksgiving and for a long time it was regarded as the American version of our Boxing Day, with shoppers hitting the stores as well as going online.

Cyber Monday got its name from the millions of US shoppers who waited until after the Thanksgiving weekend to chase bargains on their office computers.

Their ripple effect will certainly be felt across the Atlantic and it is predicted UK online spending will reach its peak in the first two weeks of December.

UK market analysts IMRG and Capgemini say an estimated £4.6bn is expected to change hands online in the fortnight commencing December 3, largely because payday for many people will fall after the final Monday in November — with a tenth of that figure attributable to Northern Ireland.

Figures compiled by the CEBR show the gap between in-store and online inflation, at 4.6%, is the widest it has ever been.

CEBR economist Colin Edwards said: “Prices on the internet are now falling at their steepest rate for five years, which bodes well for millions of households who have seen their incomes squeezed and are looking for ways to make their money go further.”

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