On Christmas Day, shortly after the presents are unwrapped and the chef for the day goes into the kitchen to start boiling the sprouts, the Internet will burst into life. For the past few Christmases, online activity in the UK has peaked between 10am and 6pm. That’s the eight-hour gap between present unwrapping and the big evening of TV. Last year in that relatively short time frame, the people of Britain spent over £800m online. This year it is estimated that online shopping in the UK on Christmas Day will top £1bn. That means around £4,000 will be spent every single second – yes, even while Her Majesty is speaking to us.
Quite how people manage to fit this all in between eating, drinking, playing games, watching TV, snoozing and arguing is difficult to imagine. But the amount of online shopping that goes on during Christmas Day means that, on average, each household in the UK will be spending £50 on Monday online.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Rev Stephen Cottrell, is not amused. This week he said he would support legislation to ban online shopping on Christmas Day. The Bishop said he would back a proposal to shut down the Internet for 24 hours.
Technically, that’s not really possible; at least not in the UK. Perhaps if you lived in North Korea, the Internet could be switched off. But for most of us, it is not technically feasible. Even if the UK Government were to ban Internet Service Providers from providing their systems on Christmas Day, there are ways around it. Plus, if they switched off the Internet, much of our power supplies would fail and some hospital systems wouldn’t work. We’re so tied-in to the Internet from the perspective of infrastructure that switching off is not an option.
That means, of course, that while you are munching on your third mince pie of the day, other people are accessing the Internet and may even be on your website buying from you. You’ll undoubtedly get emails on Christmas Day from businesses, proving that they are not taking the day off.
Some businesses struggle with providing a 24/7 operation – yet that’s the world any online business inhabits. But these days you have to be 24/7 for 365 days – no holidays. Your customers are not taking Christmas Day off. Should you?
The mere fact that your business has an online presence means you can reach people anytime, any place anywhere. But with that opportunity comes a bunch of management issues. How do you provide customer service 24/7-365? If you are an online retailer who has spent years getting people to expect “next day delivery” with “same day delivery” for thousands of items, how will you manage expectations when millions of people order from you on Christmas Day, and you cannot possibly deliver for another two or three days? That’s three times longer than usual…!
The Internet provides businesses with tremendous opportunities, but as I sit and look back at 2017, I am not entirely sure that most companies have anticipated the management issues those opportunities create. We end the year, for instance, with Toys R Us restructuring to avoid failure with much of the company’s woes being laid at the feet of the Internet. However, Toys R Us pioneered Internet retailing and swallowed up fledgeling competitors in the process. The Internet was instrumental in helping Toys R Us succeed almost 20 years ago, so how can it be to blame for its problems now?
The Internet gets the blame for a lot of business problems, and it also creates them. The weakness is not the Internet, but, rather, our ability to manage our firms in the Internet age. As you spend the Christmas break reflecting on how your year has been, spare a thought for how well you have managed the impact of the Internet on your company.
And if you can’t be bothered to do that, well unzip your wallet and go shopping online instead…!