With just over a month to go until Christmas, the high streets are filling up with shoppers braving the cold and searching for a perfect gift. Except for the growing number staying home and doing it all online, that is. The latest IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index revealed that online sales grew by 13 per cent between August and September alone, so shoppers are more likely than ever to be turning to ecommerce this Christmas.
Personally I quite enjoy the traditional shopping experience - so long as it involves a quick dash in and out of a shop followed by a long lazy hour in a coffee shop with a latte. However, as it's never as simple as this, I'm fully in favour of avoiding the crowds and emailing my Christmas wish list to Santa instead if I can help it.
Our changing habits mean that fast and reliable broadband is now a key factor for a happy shopping experience in the UK. For the most part those outlets with online shop fronts have got things working smoothly, and it's never been easier to find what you want.
I remember the days when finding a range of toys meant leafing through a catalogue and relying on a small picture and a twenty word description. With online shopping, the beauty is that comparisons and user feedback are just a quick search away.
The ease with which you can jump between different high street websites or even the manufacturer's own websites makes it very easy to see a showcase of products, often in HD quality.
Another new trend which has become un-expectantly useful for online shopping is the unboxing video on YouTube - which is literally just a shopper going through their recent purchases and unpacking everything. While you might rightly think this is incredibly boring, it can also be perfect for avoiding disappointment on Christmas morning, letting you see things like whether something comes with batteries or looks at all like the promotional photos. A fast broadband connection allows you to skip easily to the bit of a clip you are interested in without wasting 30 seconds as the clip buffers.
As useful as it is, online shopping comes with its share of challenges too of course, especially if your internet connection isn't quite up to speed. I'm probably not the only one whose heart beats a little faster when staring at the spinning icon to finish while the website authorises your payments.
A reliable broadband connection is the key to avoiding that horrible two minute pause for a web page request to time out before eventually pressing order again and hoping that you have not just ordered everything again.
Certainly for big purchases I fire up a real laptop on a reliable wireless connection, rather than attempting to hide in the shed 20 metres down the garden with my phone or tablet. The nervous wait for confirmation isn't always your fault though, and over the years when I have found out that if a site is slow in sending an initial order confirmation, I tend not to go back.
A good housekeeping tip for shopping online is to always check that your contact details are up to date, especially if you tend to use the email offered by your internet service provider. I wonder how many people have complained after not receiving confirmation and dispatch emails, only to realise they actually changed providers and thus had a change of email address?
A lot of brands in the high street are struggling with our love for online shopping, but the clever ones have learnt and are offering services like click and collect, a fantastic option if you work all week in an office and so aren't home to sign for deliveries. I am incredibly lucky to work from home more than not, so am around to sign for deliveries.
Online and traditional retail have blended together in other interesting ways as well. The availability of Wi-Fi on the high street means you can immediately price check something on the shelf and see if you're getting the best deal, rather than bustling from shop to shop, do remember to factor in postage costs if going to buy online though.
Sitting here with almost all of my online Christmas shopping done, I find a surprising amount has been done through independent retailers who seem to have e-shops that are just as competitive as the more well-known names, and I'm sure we'll see more of this moving forwards.
As for the busy high streets, it's now an opportunity to venture for me to out and enjoy a nice coffee and an overpriced muffin while I people-watch the mad Christmas rush of shoppers.