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Here's to a Merry (Mobile) Xmas - Online and Off

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With some of the last few key retailers launching their xmas shopping ads over the weekend, this week the Christmas season well and truly began in the world of retail and eCommerce. Anyone who reads the news at all has become used around this time to a week or two of gloomy predictions, high street uncertainty and feverish comparison of this year's budget, earnings and spending with the last on both sides of the counter.

However, on Friday a story emerged which failed to attract much coverage outside the trade press ghetto but to me functions as something of a ray of light into all this fatalist murk. This season, according to a new survey, will mark the UK retail sector's first significantly mobile Christmas, with around 45% of Europe's mobile shopping being conducted in these isles - an expected spend of about £1.64bn via mobile phones.

In and of itself, this is heartening. It's no surprise to those in the industry: the UK is (high) streets ahead of the rest of the continent when it comes to eCommerce in general, so it isn't remarkable that we should be the first to really take to mobile shopping in particular. However, it ought to curtail the more pessimistic of the media: clearly, retailers are adapting, and so is the way the consumer interacts with them.

What nobody seems to have identified is that this trend won't only boost the eCommerce sector: it'll translate to real world footfall in the high street shops which are supposedly so desperate. Stats and general retail trends suggest that the retail function of mobile internet has at least as much to do with searching for products - which might then be purchased physically - and local store locations as it does with purchasing those products online.

According to a recent ATG survey, while 41% of 18-34-year-olds are using mobiles to complete purchases, 46% of them are using the same devices to search for reviews, coupons, and other information which might well lead to a physical purchase.

It's important that retailers and commentators grasp the benefit of marrying on and offline commerce. A study by GI insight published this week found that not only do a full 63% of shoppers buy both physically and using the internet, but that the two platforms often both make an appearance in the purchase of a single product.

The kind of bulky items that appear under so many Christmas trees, bicycles et al, are tried in store first by 73% of online customers. Fashion items and consumer electronics, also Christmas favourites, come close behind, at 69% and 60% respectively.

In short, eCommerce and physical retail need to use their websites, physical presence on the high street and new media to boost each other's growth, with the power of proper consumer engagement (including search engine optimisation - something which lies at the heart of all my platforms) at their base so that mobile consumers can easily find them. Let's cut the doom and gloom, embrace our position at the forefront of new retail trends in Europe and look forward to a High Street that's mobile, virtual and social. As far as I am concerned, its already here.

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