CELLPHONES and tablets are helping more and more people opt for the convenience of shopping online for gifts this year. Shopping websites such as Kalahari.com have reported surging sales over the pre-Christmas sales period, driven not only by the seasonal rush for gifts, but also by the increasingly easy access to the internet that cellphones and tablets now provide. Kirby Gordon, marketing manager of Kalahari.com said, for example, that the big increase in their sales this season is being driven by two factors. The first is that there is a much greater variety of goods for sale online than in previous years, and the second is that there are many more people buying goods online than ever before, using their mobiles and tablets. Gordon said a survey of their clients showed that this year, the average price people were willing to pay for gifts for their immediate family was R773 per person, R315 per gift for extended family and some R200 per gift for friends. “These are numbers that we think are quite high,” said Gordon when he was questioned whether earlier predictions by some economists of a slowdown in consumer spending may have impacted on online product sales. When asked about the bestsellers this year, he said “a lot of tech, such as the gobii e-reader, is flying off our shelves”. There was also a definite trend to buy locally made or manufactured goods, as opposed to goods from overseas. For instance, Kalahari.com’s bestselling book was Kobra written by Deon Meyer. The bestselling sports book was Alex Ferguson’s My Biography. Biltong-makers by Salton, and braais were also flying off the shelves, said Gordon. Cuan Akal, operations manager for online auction website bidorbuy.co.za, said they had experienced a double-digit percentage increase in the value of purchases in the current festive season when compared with the previous year. “There was an especially sharp increase in the volume of sales of toys, kitchen appliances, the latest high-tech devices such as tablets and smartphones, as well as men’s watches and a variety of ladies’ jewellery items,” said Akal. “This year, we saw another peak in the beginning of December, when the sad news of the death of former South African president and worldwide icon Nelson Mandela triggered a phenomenal increase in demand and sales of Mandela memorabilia and coins.” Akal said this year’s Christmas shopping was also characterised by the rise in the number of purchases made using a mobile device. Currently, about 10% of purchases on the site are made via a tablet or a cellphone. The 2013 survey of online shopping habits by MasterCard Worldwide showed that online retail in South Africa is growing by more than 30% annually. The Christmas shopping season accounts for a big proportion of most retailers’ annual sales. Antoinette Coetzee, retail analyst at Redefine Properties, said December 2012, for instance, accounted for 12% of total South African retail sales in that year. Coetzee does not expect online shopping to pose too much of a threat to the malls this year, but in some categories, such as books, music and electronics, “the offering and convenience of online can be more attractive than shopping with the crowds”.