E-commerce is set to benefit from continued high street hesitation as half (50%) of UK consumers vow to do more of their Christmas season shopping and gift buying online this year compared to 2019, according to new research.

E-commerce platform ChannelAdvisor and research firm Dynata surveyed 1,022 UK consumers and compared findings to similar surveys from June and May. The research found that over a quarter (28%) of UK consumers continue to abstain from high street shopping – despite stores reopening on 15 June – and e-commerce Christmas sales look set to benefit from shoppers’ high street hesitation.

The government has urged public caution and new restrictions around social gatherings come into effect from Monday 14 September – and could continue well beyond Black Friday, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps saying “we may well be by Christmas in a position to look at it again”.

Shoppers Turn To E-Commerce As Peak Retail Season Approaches

The survey found that online shopping is increasingly popular – 60% of respondents to ChannelAdvisor’s September survey said they are shopping online more frequently than before the COVID-19 crisis, compared to 48% who said the same in ChannelAdvisor’s May survey.

ChannelAdvisor’s survey found a sizable proportion of shoppers continue to find instore visits inconvenient. 39% of respondents who had purchased in-store had faced queues, 37% said the experience was less convenient than prior to Covid19 and 44% found it less enjoyable.

Hesitation and anxiousness around visiting the high street have not been calmed over the last few months since shops have reopened. 30% of shoppers felt nervous to be shopping instore, rising to 37% for the 66+ year group. This hesitation appears to have persisted since ChannelAdvisor’s June survey of over 1,000 shoppers, which found that 28% felt nervous about shopping instore experience.

There were signs that UK customers are growing accustomed to the digital experience. Over a quarter (28%) had grown more confident with online shopping, which rose to a third (33%) for the 56-65 age group. 37% said they had purchased items they had not bought online before and 32% had purchased from retailers they had not shopped with before, a 7% increase from 25% in May.

The 18-25 age group has been the most active on the high street, with 83% having visited physical store locations since they reopened – higher than the 72% average.

Online Becomes The New Home Of Window Shopping

The survey found that COVID has redefined how customers window shop. Almost a third (31%) had used Facebook and a quarter (25%) had used Instagram to research products. Younger shoppers are driving this trend, with the 18-25 year old group far more likely than average to browse social media to research potential purchases – 56% for Instagram and 49% for Facebook. 49% of these younger shoppers had discovered the products they purchased online through social media, more than double the average (24%) of all the age groups.

Amazon was the clear go-to marketplace for all age groups, with almost half (45%) of customers beginning their online shopping on the platform before looking anywhere else. 85% of all online shoppers had used Amazon to research products since March and 45% had been spending more time on the site during the pandemic. 63% plan to do the majority of their Christmas season purchasing on the site and 70% plan to at least check prices on Amazon for their Christmas shopping.

Vladi Shlesman, Managing Director, EMEA for ChannelAdvisor, said:

“As peak shopping season approaches and high street hesitation persists, e-commerce continues to offer a valuable lifeline for retailers and brands. 2020 has redefined the shopping experience for many and even the idea of window shopping has changed. Even many intending to visit a shop are likely to research products on digital channels first and this creates opportunities for those digital brands that can offer a convenient online buying experience and highlight potential spontaneous purchases. Shoppers have become more adventurous online and this is the ideal time for brands to match this by experimenting with different approaches across digital channels.”