The road to Mega Monday

A finance company has predicted that Monday will be the busiest online shopping day ever

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In the run-up to Christmas, many people will be doing at least some of their shopping online. For a process which has become so commonplace, it is easy to forget that it's not been around for all that long.

BBC Scotland's Gillian Sharpe reports.

In a small warehouse in the Stirlingshire village of Balfron, work is beginning on packing Christmas hampers.

There are shelves stacked high with food and drinks - shortbread, whisky and the like.

Between now and Christmas these will be chosen, packed and sent throughout the UK and abroad.

"On this strand of the business it gets pretty crazy," says Endrick Trading owner Lee Rooney, who runs an online hamper and other e-commerce businesses.

"You do kind of 80% of your turnover in seven weeks which is a bit of a white knuckle ride."

He started out with a business supplying outdoor cigarette bins.

A pretty basic website was added almost as an afterthought but soon he found that the balance of the business had begun to change.

Lee Rooney Mr Rooney says the pre-Christmas period is "a bit of a white knuckle ride"

"Very quickly," he points out, "we realised that the main thrust of our sales were either directly e-commerce or coming off the website.

"On starting you would be more Yellow Pages-orientated. Within 12 months that was moving on and the Google searches were already taking principal position, so we took it from there."

So how did the online shopping phenomenon begin?

Retailing experts say a number of things came together - there was a reasonable history already of distance buying in the form of things like mail order, credit had grown in the 1980s and then the internet itself developed.

Yet the process was not an entirely smooth one. Some retailers seem to have overestimated the early potential, while the websites themselves often did not look great.

"Consumers had to learn about the new developments," says Prof Leigh Sparks of Stirling University.

"Issues around security was another of the aspects that consumers reacted to, about whether their privacy was being invaded and whether they were secure to buy online.

"At the same time a few Christmases ago in the UK we had a big issue when it (online shopping) really took off.

"But the ability of the physical infrastructure to deliver the products in time, and particularly when you think about Christmas selling -that's obviously very important - that infrastructure failed and a lot of people were very disappointed."

Prof Sparks adds: "Retailers began to realise that if this was going to be serious they really had to ramp up the systems that made online shopping something that worked time and time again and became part of life."

Mega Monday

Their efforts appear to be paying off, as Monday is forecast to be the busiest online shopping day ever.

It's been dubbed Mega Monday by Visa, which says people across the UK will use its credit cards to spend £222,222 per minute, making 4,722 transactions every 60 seconds - an increase of more than 20% on last year.

In keeping with the annual trend, Mega Monday falls on the first Monday in December when consumers are spurred on by payday falling on the last Friday in November.

Having earmarked their favourite items in-store over the weekend, shoppers log on typically after dark. The busiest time online is between 20:00 and 21:00.

Packages ready to ship move along a conveyor belt at Amazon.com Online specialists like Amazon.com have been gearing up for Mega Monday

But not everyone finds it necessarily the best way to do their shopping.

Outside the very physical presence of a supermarket, there are different opinions about online shopping.

"I'd actually rather go and touch it and see it, to be honest, rather than go online," says one woman.

Another says she does about half her shopping online. "Convenience," she adds, "and it's easier to compare prices. If it's something expensive I'd go and look at it at the shop first and then buy it online at the best price."

With online shopping in all its various guises now firmly embedded as part of the wider shopping scene, Mr Rooney reflects that 10 or 12 years ago he could not have done what he is doing now.

"I mean there wouldn't have been broadband in the village," he says.

"One phone line splits into three phone lines, into broadband, into payment processing - all of that. From that point of view it is very much a 21st century cottage industry."

You can hear more about the development of online shopping BBC Scotland's Business Scotland programme on Saturday at 6:04 and again on Sunday at 10:06. It will also be available by free download.

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