So how much were people set to blow on virtually sourced wares? Well, Visa (for example) reckons online shoppers are going through £184k a minute. We assume it means in total – unless consumers are taking an incredibly counter-intuitive approach to the debt lessons of recent years. Still, that's a lot of shopping: Visa predicts internet sales will be up 5.5% on the same day last year, with 74% of us planning to buy presents online.
Meanwhile Deloitte suggests that online sales for December will rise 15%, to a whopping £8bn. That’s 23% of the expected total retail spend for the month – proof that the benefits of sitting behind a desk while getting your novelty slippers and Christmas sweaters at the click of a mouse have become abundantly clear to a wider spread of society.
All this, and it’s still only November. While it’s clearly the Christmas drive that’s got people shopping, people are also being spurred on by the looming VAT hikes in January. Hence the popularity of big-ticket items like high definition and 3D TVs, and, at the slightly cheaper end, the iPod Touch and Nano, not to mention video games like the latest Call of Duty and Gran Turismo offerings.
Better still for retailers, the activity’s not just confined to the internet. Sales in the West End of London topped £250m over the weekend, thanks to events like Saturday’s Shop West End VIP day; cars were banned from Regent Street and Oxford Street, so they could be turned into the unadulterated no-holds-barred consumerist frenzy that everyone for some reason wants them to be. Apparently 1.5m people spent an average £200 each in the scrum. It may have been hell for any passing tourists, but the retailers were laughing: they took £20m more than the equivalent day last year, making it their strongest trading day in three years.
If beating the icy cold wasn’t impressive enough, it also shows that shoppers haven’t been deterred by all this talk of cuts, the Irish bailout, or the prospect of having to save the GDP of a small country to get their kids through university. And at least they’re putting their money back into the real economy. Although it’s worth remembering that living way beyond our means was partly what got us into this mess in the first place…