Does Santa do his Christmas shopping online? 20% of people don’t, thanks to cyber insecuity woes

In the run up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I asked 1,000 people in the UK whether worries about cyber security have ever put them off buying a Christmas present online.

Part of the motivation was a conversation I had with a Liverpool taxi driver a few years ago. It was just after Christmas and having spoken about how stretched his finances were, and how he was struggling to cover costs on his cab let alone make a profit, we moved on to my job. When I told him I work in cyber security, he told me that I’d failed and should go home and put my feet up because “the hackers have won”. He refused to use the Internet because he was so scared of cyber crime, to the extent that when his son wanted a particular skateboard which was only available online or in a London store, he forgoed a day’s work and drove to London to buy the board in person, rather than save all of that petrol money and lost work hours and buy it online. He told me his wife was the direct opposite, thought his fears were paranoia, and would buy anything from any site with no care or concern for security. To my mind, both of these extreme responses are the result of poorly communicated cyber security threats and I’ve spoken and written about the psychology of fear and cyber security elsewhere.

My conversation with the taxi driver has stayed with me. Now that we’re once again at the time of year where people buy more online, especially with Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals – and with rumours flying that Amazon has suffered a breach – I decided to find out whether consumers in the UK are put off online Christmas shopping because of cyber security worries.

I’ve done previous research which shows that people are worried about cyber security, but that despite those worries they don’t engage in basic behaviours to keep their information more secure, like good password management or using two-factor authentication.

So my results from this survey probably aren’t that surprising.

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Almost 80% of people have never been put off buying a Christmas present online, which implies that most people are not so worried about cyber threats that they won’t use the Internet to buy goods and services. Convenience trumps security, not for the first or last time. However, 20% is quite a lot of people and a lot of money lost to online retailers. Given that online retail sales in the UK are expected to reach £52.25bn this year, and online retail spending increases at Christmas, online retailers are losing out on quite a lot of extra income. Experian and online retail group IMRG are predicting online purchases will hit £1.07bn on Black Friday 2015, which means online retailers are potentially losing out on about £200 million due to consumer cyber security worries. It also means people like my taxi driver will continue to miss out on the advantages that the Internet offers.

By Dr Jessica Barker