Holiday Shopping: Omicron Restrictions Have European Businesses Leaning on E-commerce

It appears the latest Covid-19 restrictions and related concerns across Europe are sending holiday shoppers online while in-person business stalls. 

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Small European businesses might be looking for relief via online shopping once again this holiday season. They have the Covid-19 varient Omicron to thank for that, at least in part.

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A third of European consumers said they planned to do more of their holiday shopping online this year, according to a recent survey from the Statista Research Department. A little under a fifth indicated they’ll be doing that shopping at more independent or local businesses. 

Still, the ongoing pandemic isn’t causing a dent in overall spending. A different Statista analysis found that across the United Kingdom, online and in-person spending is expected to hit 84.7 billion British pounds this holiday season. Germany has the second-highest forecasted total with 74.7 billion pounds, followed by France, whose shoppers are expected to spend 62.8 billion pounds. 

The introduction of the Omicron variant and the restrictions that have come with it have altered a few shopping habits. In October, the UK's Office for National Statistics reported that sales rose by 0.8 percent after no growth in September, adding that “some retailers [suggested] that early Christmas trading had boosted sales.” Charity shops and auction houses were among the stores that saw notable increases.

Earlier this season, there was hope for in-store transactions. A McKinsey & Company survey revealed in November that engagement in out-of-home activities surged from 11 percent in February to 51 percent in October throughout France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. But 74 percent of respondents were still cautious. At that point, caution was driven by the Delta variant. At the time of the survey, 48 percent of respondents planned to return to stores for in-person shopping. 

By November, however, 69 percent of respondents to a Statista inquiry said they were buying their gifts online.

As Omicron has become the dominant variant in many European countries, nations in the region have reinstated restrictions to limit crowding in public spaces. The restrictions impact more than just retail. Germany, for instance, announced that starting 28 December, limits on private gatherings would return, capping the attendee allowance at 10. Nightclubs, too, will close, and football matches will take place behind closed doors. Meanwhile, Portugal’s bars and nightclubs will shutter after 26 December, working from home will be mandatory until 9 January, and outdoor gatherings will be limited to 10 people. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said last week, “Coronavirus doesn’t take a Christmas break.” 

Still, with proper precautions, some shopping can still be done in-person. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said there will not be new restrictions in England before Christmas.