Has Amazon killed Christmas Shopping across the globe?

I’ve been stuck indoors lately. What started with a cold rapidly developed into full blown infection, I was quite poorly but this is normal at this time of year when your autoimmune system packed it’s bags and moved out. After ten days of seeing the same four walls and feeling like hot stinking tripe I realised that I’d not been out of the house. At all. Not even to take the trash out or bring the milk in (these jobs tend to get relegated as carrying trash on crutches or in a wheelchair doesn’t end well… ever!). I had my stark raving mad , cabin fever stage at about day 5. Those pass eventually, as I found out in the past. On day 10 my husband finally dragged me out of the house. We thought we’d get some christmas shopping done.

I’ve seen the seasonal shopping experience evolve over my lifetime, mostly driven by the changes in information disemination. When I was a pre-teen I distinctly remember shopping for clothes for my birthday at the end of October, and seeing no Christmas products anywhere. Over my eldest sons lifetime (20 years) we’ve seen that change dramatically. This year I found a local store putting their Christmas merchandise out in the middle of August. As they only took their post Christmas reductions out of the store to make way for the Valentines day gimmicks I began to wonder whether it was really worth bothering at all.

I’ve seen the Christmas shopping experience treated as something special too. Special, festive shopping evenings laid on in our towns and villages around the UK have been beautiful, a cross between a shopping night and a parade, with stalls, rides and entertainers operating alongside the stores who offered insentives to shoppers to buy on those special evenings. These usually happen in the middle of November. So I expected to be able to go out this week, take enough money and get 90% of my Christmas shopping sorted. But this year I am astonished to be able to say that I couldn’t seem to spend the money. The shops felt no more festive than they would in June or July, and the range of products was particularly disappointing. I spent more money on a hot drink and snack for the two children who came with me (That bill was less than £10). I literally could not find things to spend my money on.

I’m painfully aware of my position teetering on the edge of has-been-hood. I find myself slapping both hands over my mouth as I go to speak the words “Back when I was your age…” to my Kidult sons (20 and 18 years old).  My generation have both the love of picking up the products that we want to buy, fingering them, cuddling them, rattling the pants off of them, and knowing what we’re buying before we buy it rather than expecting a nice product to arrive but receiving something made for a dolls house.  Sometimes it’s nice to just know what stuff feels like isn’t it?  But on the other hand, we championed the likes of amazon coming along like some burton-esque character, like some kind of possessed living tree creature, with spindly, sprouting fingers that have sprouted and tickled their way across so much of our every day lives on a global scale. As I sat in my wheelchair getting more and more fed up with the distinct lack of good, usable, enjoyable gifts rather than gimmicky crud I had to ask myself, have we invited this situation? In our exuberant support of Amazon have we changed the Christmas shopping experience forever?

Contrary to popular belief, Jeff Bezos’s brain child was not an overnight billion dollar corporation. It started as so many other ideas do, as a small seed in 1994. Had you heard of Amazon in 1994? I sure as eggs hadn’t ! In 1994 I was still birthday shopping in October and seeing no Christmas madness.  It took half a decade to move from book store to shopping platform, and the wonder of prime was not born for another 6 years (11 years after they were born). It was not until 2007 that they became noted as a big player at Christmas, and they finally reached the dizzy heights of the number one Christmas online shopping experience in the world in 2012. No overnight wonder about it.  Now, at year 23 Amazon is predicted to gain 50% of the growth share and 40% of the web commerce this Christmas trading season.  But have they strangled off the high street to achieve this success ?

Amazon themselves clearly don’t think so. In the same year that the internet had is Tesla moment as online retailer ASOS leapfrogged the historic giant that is Marks and Spencer it seems somewhat surreal to learn  that an Amazon Guerrilla store sits amongst 750,000 lights, and the UK’s big boys on the most iconic shopping street in London, the Golden Mile of Oxford street. However, this does not fit in with the analyst claim that our retail market has offloaded 200,000 staff in 8 years, and will loose another 900,000 over the next 8 years. Retail sales for October were reported to be down 9% and £1 in every £6 spent in the UK is spent on the internet. This is predicted only to grow. How the market will respond to Amazon’s centralised, pop up shop on our most famous Christmas shopping stretch is anyone’s guess. It’s a brazen move for sure, but then the Bezos method has relied upon some ballsy moves.

Unfortunately, being in a wheelchair on a busy high street at Christmas rules me out of the glitz of Oxford street and the convenience of our shopping centre’s (Malls).  What does this mean for shoppers like myself, either well and truly in club-has-been and not keen to shop online, to those teetering on the edge, yet unable to shop in the convenient places with any degree of ease?  Especially when I have found that Amazon’s black friday offerings haven’t been to the typical taste of my friends and loved ones ? My solution is somewhat creative. I’ve decided to hand make gifts. Easy peasy lemon squeazy! Okay, so I don’t have enough hours in the day as it is, but I’ll work it out. But not everyone is creative and crafty. So realistically, how do we predict what is to come for their Christmas shopping experiences, especially with retail giants such as M & S poised to close 30 stores and downgrade another 35? And of course, with our GDP, SDP, and Wage share significantly down, and the projections for the next period of time revised to reflect this, and with a huge number of jobs lost, what does this mean for Christmas for many out of work retail workers in general over the next decade ? No one can predict just how far the damaging impact on our high streets will extend really. The UK markets are rather perverse, as we’ve discovered since Sainsbury’s supermarkets ate Argos catalog shop for its tea last year. The official stats regarding consumer behaviour have indicated that 60% of the Argos order value comes from internet trade, but 2/3 of that number then present themselves instore to collect their purchases. That equates to 80% of all Argos custom attending store to collect their purchases, irregardless of same day delivery at a cost, or next day delivery for less than the fuel would cost to drive to the store to collect. I’m afraid there are facets of consumer behaviour that even the most experienced of Psychology PhD’s cannot fathom. This may be one of those areas. I have a feeling that face to face customer service, and the feeling of knowing what you are getting before it arrives in your home are massive factors in what drives this perverse consumer behaviour.

I do worry about the future. As an on the edge of has-been, I want to have my cake and eat it. I want a reason to go into stores and fondle fabrics, and wow at designs, and suck the back of my teeth at price tags as I think “Thanks but at that price no thanks!”, I want Christmas shopping evenings, I want pretty presents on the high street, and I want a friendly face at the end of customer services rather than some semi mechanical type on the other side of a screen. But I also want that peace of mind of knowing that I can log on to Amazon until 7pm and still get next day delivery when I’ve left it too late to make my kids’ costume for the latest ill timed historical dress up day in school. I don’t want this one or the other choice. I want either-or, I want the best of both, but I want it at online prices! Anything less is just not enough! *Hmmmmmmmmph!*

Dorne Warner

I'm a freelancer with a diverse range of professional experience and a passionate interest in the human experience. I've spent 20 years working across a range of communicative platforms and online communities. My absolute favourite was 7 years in a voluntary capacity with iVillage UK. In this role, I was able to break the constraints of contracted work and discovered a passion for connecting with service users in order to feedback to HQ. This role generated a depth of understanding of the client experience from which the management was able to improve their service. I refer to this as my favourite because although voluntary iVillage UK helped me to find my speciality and develop my professional skill set. I currently manage an osteopathic practice. By implementing the deeper level of client understanding I have successfully enhanced the treatment experience, dispelled patient anxiety, and shortened prescription lengths. This enhanced service has improved client return rates and word of mouth recommendations. I've also successfully enhanced staff experience. Happy staff are integral to achieving happy clients. My strengths include safeguarding and risk assessment. At a personal level, I am highly motivated and self-critical. I strive to improve myself in order to deliver better results for my employers. My colleagues describe me as intuitive, supportive, and 'useful to have around'. I thrive in positions in which I can support others. I also thrive while self-improving. I remain a student with the open university, with whom I studied for my BSc (Hons) Psychology & am reading an MSc path with. I thrive in support roles. I am freelancing and available for ghostwriting, project management, short-format feature articles and charity work.
  • Richard Huang

    How is Amazon stock doing?
    Meanwhile, I’d report that in NYC, we’ve had Green Acres mall full and a Gamestop near Barclays Center full too. The Barclays Center Gamestop was to the point where no one could enter the store.

    • Dee Warner

      Hi Richard. Sorry I didn’t reply to you sooner. I’ve been somewhat unwell since writing this. I’m glad to hear that you’ve seen full malls in the USA. Anecdotally, the UK trend seems to follow just behind the trend with you.

      It’s a personal goal to get well enough to visit NYC at christmas, just once. So I hope the magic continues on and on.

      I’m currently bogged down with a psychologists load from hell, I’ll check out amazon stock when I’ve finished the current paper and try to get back to you.

      Best wishes.

  • Danielle

    I find malls to be particularly miserable this time of year as of recently and all I think about when walking around in them is how much I miss Amazon lol. For a true Christmas experience I love European Christmas Markets where I can buy from local artisans and bakers instead of spending another pretty penny at sweat shop brands like Victoria Secret.

    • Dee Warner

      Check out the Salzburg Markets at the end of next November if funds and holiday allowance permit. The last weekend of November is quiet enough that you can look round, but everything is laid on by then. The Motzart concert and meal is also to die for, even if classical sounds are not your thing, it is worth experiencing at least once. The atmosphere is just the most amazing thing, and the christmas trees around the house are captivating.

      It is because of Salzburg at Christmas that despite having many kids and many cats our Christmas tree is adorned in Swarovski Crystal and artisan glass! I have to say, the only breakages I’ve ever had have been down to OPK’s (Other peoples kids) ! I do wholeheartedly agree with you re : artisan markets, and being pro Europe on the European connection.

      I’m contemplating taking my lapel camera out next December around a Mall here in the UK. The way wheelies are treated is disgusting. Last time I went to a Mall in my wheelchair pre christmas (November) I came home with a black eye from an umbrella to the face. We get bags in the face, we get our chairs moved for us – if you’re hoping yourself on your rims not your brake then the chances of broken fingers are massive (Lucky me, I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome so my fingers just dislocate which saves broken bones). I’ve been sworn at, sat on, and pushed in front of. It takes a lot to get to me, but I left Westfield in tears last time we went at Christmas as the season of joy and good will seemed to have had the N left off of the n, so it became “The season of joy and good will to all me” in the minds of shoppers.

      Annnnnyhow, rant over. You made some great points. Check out London sometime. 😉