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Non-essential shops have reopened across England just in time for cooped-up shoppers to hit the high street in search of presents. But like almost everything in 2020, Christmas shopping will be different this year.
Struggling high street retailers are hoping a last-minute Christmas shopping rush will turn their fortunes around.
This, combined with the ongoing effects of the pandemic, have led to some unusual developments on the holly-decked high street. Here, we take you through what to expect.
Please note: since non-essential shops are closed under Northern Ireland’s latest lockdown, none of these points will apply. But many of them will once shops reopen.
1. You can shop 24 hours
Ever fancied popping into Primark at 3am? Well, this year you can. The government has waived restrictions on shops’ opening hours, meaning retailers are free to welcome customers around the clock if they wish.
Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick wrote in the Telegraph that this will ensure ‘more pleasant and safer shopping with less pressure on public transport’. But will anyone actually do it?
In a snap Twitter poll, most Which? Money followers said they probably wouldn’t. Only a third showed interest in the idea.
Shops could stay open 24 hours a day in the run-up to Christmas – but would you be interested in shopping out of the usual hours?
— Which? Money (@WhichMoney) November 30, 2020
The second question is whether retailers themselves will opt to stay open for longer. So far, Primark is the highest-profile chain to announce plans to stay open all hours. Some 11 of its stores have already begun trading around the clock.
There may be less appetite from local independent traders, however.
Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira), told Which?: ‘We do not expect independent retailers to [stay open] 24 hours, but they would welcome the opportunity to do more late night shopping in the run-up to the very important festive period.’
- Find out more: best and worst clothes shops
2. Your favourite shops might have closed
It’s no secret that 2020 has been tough on brick and mortar retailers. They’ve been closed for large chunks of the year due to lockdowns, and thousands of jobs have already been lost. Many shops across the nation have closed their doors for good.
If you were planning to shop at Debenhams, you might have difficulty as the historic retailer began liquidation earlier this week. A clearance sale is underway, and stores will close when all stock is sold if the chain doesn’t find a buyer.
The Arcadia retail group has also entered administration, meaning high street staples Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge could also close down before long.
If you have vouchers for any of these stores, we’d recommend using them as soon as possible. If you buy anything for over £100, consider paying with a credit card so you’re protected by Section 75.
- Find out more: five tips to avoid losing money when a retailer goes bust
3. You might bag a bargain
As we know all too well at Which?, Black Friday isn’t always the best time to buy. So even though November’s much-hyped sales season is over, there’s still a chance you’ll be able to find great gifts for less – especially as prices have been falling in recent months.
According to the BRC-Nielsen Shop Price Index, non-food prices fell by 3.7% in November, more than the 2.7% fall recorded in October. If this trend continues, you could find yourself spending less than you expected on presents.
- Find out more: why December’s the cheapest time of year to buy a TV
4. You may need to book a shopping slot
Perhaps thanks in part to its popular annual adverts, John Lewis has positioned itself as the go-to store for Christmas shopping. But if you’re thinking of shopping there in person, you might have to plan in advance.
The department store chain is offering pre-booked shopping slots to help keep numbers at a safe level. You can book your slot up to two weeks in advance, and you’ll need to show a confirmation email when arriving.
If stores get busy and you haven’t booked online, you may be able to join a ‘virtual queue’, meaning you can go and shop elsewhere and return when notified on your phone.
M&S is also offering pre-booked shopping slots.
5. Parking might be free
Several local councils are waiving parking fees in a bid to encourage shoppers to return to the high streets.
Councils in areas including Basingstoke, Carmarthen, Colchester, East Suffolk and Warwickshire have already announced free parking for the run-up to Christmas.
The AA is backing a campaign to get more councils doing the same.
- Find out more: how to appeal a parking ticket
6. You may have to shop local
COVID-19 restrictions across the country mean leaving your local area to go Christmas shopping might be against the guidance or even illegal.
Travelling into or out of Tier 3 areas in England for anything other than essential purposes is not permitted. The same goes for Level 3 and 4 areas of Scotland.
If you usually drive outside of your area to shop for Christmas, say to an out-of-town shopping centre or retail park, you’ll have to check which Tier it’s under before you hit the road.
- Find out more: the latest on lockdown rules and reopenings
7. You could walk on the road…
…well, if you’re shopping on Regent Street in London. And only on certain days.
The street will be closed to vehicles from 10am to 9pm on three Saturdays (5, 12, and 19) in December, allowing people to more comfortably shop on what is normally one of the country’s busiest shopping streets.
8. You may spend less
Millions of people have been hit hard financially by the pandemic. Unemployment figures are climbing, many have been on reduced incomes and it’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of self-employed people don’t qualify for the government’s support scheme.
With all this in mind, it’s no wonder 47% of consumers told Which? that they expect to spend less this Christmas than they did last year. Some 35% think they’ll spend the same amount, and only 14% think they’ll spend more.
9. More people will shop online
Online shopping has ballooned throughout 2020, not least because the internet was the only place you could buy non-essential items for long stretches.
At the start of the year, online accounted for one fifth (20%) of total retail sales, according to the ONS. In October, this had risen to three in ten (28%).
Recent Which? research found that 62% of consumers expect to do more of their Christmas shopping online this year, which could result in high streets being less busy than they have been in previous years – though still busier than they were during lockdown.
10. Some shops will be closed on Boxing Day
The Boxing Day sales are famous for offering great discounts, not to mention the chance to spend gift vouchers and return unwanted presents.
But this year, several major high street brands have announced they won’t be opening their stores on 26 December.
The Entertainer, John Lewis, M&S, Pets at Home and Wickes are among the chains that have announced they’ll stay closed on Boxing Day, allowing staff to spend time with their families while the lockdown rules are relaxed.