By Daniel Hunter

As nationwide retailers drop their prices and offer increasingly comprehensive online shopping services, can smaller independent stores hope to compete for a share of the all -important Christmas market?

A recent YouGov survey, conducted on behalf of Towergate Insurance, has shed some light on the decisions Christmas shoppers make - and offers small businesses some useful insights into how to get a bigger slice of the pudding.

Present-buying is still a top priority, with some people shopping for gifts as early as the January sales, although it's not until September that activity picks up in earnest. Most people (73%) begin their Christmas shopping in November or earlier, suggesting that last-minute panic buying is the exception rather than the rule.

Online shopping has perhaps rung in the biggest changes to the way people buy Christmas gifts in the past decade. While a heaving High Street was once a familiar festive sight, the survey revealed that 46% of people now do the majority of their Christmas shopping online. A large majority of these
(81%) were attracted to the convenience of online retail, while 57% said the prices were better.

Of those who remain committed to the high street, 23% believe there's a better selection of products in bricks-and-mortar stores, while interestingly a third (33%) enjoy the atmosphere of the annual festive spending spree - something that just can't be recreated on a computer screen. This is
one area where traditional stores still have the edge over the online space, suggesting snowy shop displays and carol singers on the High Street are still an important part of what makes Christmas Christmas.

Shoppers were also quizzed about whether they choose large chains or small, independent stores for their gifts. 29% said they would be more likely to give the independent stores their custom if they were open at more accommodating hours - bearing in mind that a significant one-third (33%) of
people plan to do some of their Christmas shopping on weekday evenings.

Less than half (43%) said independent shops offer a good range of stock compared to larger chains, indicating that greater variety may help to pull in the punters.

"We're always interested to find out how people's Christmas shopping habits differ from year to year, especially as the way people shop never stops changing," said Amanda Walton, Regional Managing Director at Towergate Insurance. "This research shows that buying gifts for loved ones in
High Street shops is still an important part of the festive season for many people, despite the convenience of online shopping - and we hope it keeps giving a much-needed boost to the nation's small businesses for many years to come."

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