Disruption to Christmas traditions presents opportunities for retailers

50% of shoppers say they have already started their shopping, with only 15% planning to wait until December.
02 November 2020
christmas gifting ecommerce 2020
Joanna Parman

Strategic Insights Director, Worldpanel Division

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You might assume that the announcement of a second national lockdown this weekend has prompted shoppers to start ticking items off their Christmas lists. But this isn’t necessarily the case. In our survey of 52,000 shoppers conducted on 10 October, 50% said that they had already started their shopping, with only 15% planning to wait until December. This has huge implications for retailers up and down the country as Brits navigate the upcoming national lockdown and accompanying shopping restrictions. Questions over who we will be able to see during Christmas, how we’ll celebrate and whether to send gifts in the post or present them in person, will also impact our decisions about which gifts to buy and where to source them from.

Early start boosts online shopping

One effect of us buying presents early is that we have time to wait for delivery drivers to drop off our online shopping – something which often is a barrier to buying gifts online in December. Even prior to the national lockdown announcement this weekend, 50% of people said they planned to do most or all of their main present shopping online this year, (up from 42% last year), so this is set to be a big theme given the closure of non-essential retail for the forthcoming weeks. However, the same doesn’t apply to food shopping; only a fifth of us planned to do most or all of our Christmas food shopping online (22% last year). The question is whether that will change as the restricted lockdown measures evolve.

What is also clear is that shoppers are anticipating picking up their main Christmas presents online. 41% of shoppers stated that they intended to use online stores to buy big gifts at Christmas, whereas many fewer (31%) shoppers were intending to buy stocking fillers online. Therefore, brands and retailers need to think creatively about how to position these items online to grab shoppers’ attention.

Saving or splurging this Christmas

Hopes of a ‘normal’ Christmas are dropping as we approach December, with 63% of households saying it’s unlikely they’ll be having a normal Christmas this year (up from 55% in September). 

Another factor influencing decisions on what to buy for loved ones is how shoppers are feeling when it comes to finances, and how much the uncertainty that lies ahead will affect the budgets set aside for celebrating Christmas this year. 44% of us are feeling nervous already and fear we may have to cut back over Christmas, with young families feeling this most keenly. Two thirds of households told us they are extremely or very concerned about the economic outlook of the country – the highest this has been since July – and one in four remain extremely or very concerned about their own financial security.

So which parts of the Christmas experience will we look to save money on, and where are we willing to splurge? 

Presents are the main focus of intended cutbacks so far, with people saying they will buy fewer gifts overall (47%), look for cheaper options (44%), or buy fewer main presents (31%). This means that the way that we buy and give gift categories will be impacted heavily this year. For brands and retailers, it is more important than ever to get front of mind and prove their worth on shoppers’ Christmas lists.

It is not just presents that we’ll cut back spending on this year. Festive food is also at risk, with 22% saying they may have to cut back on Christmas fare. Indeed, our forecast for take-home grocery growth for quarter four has softened slightly as we approach the final two months of the year. Growth of 8.1% is expected in quarter four, down slightly on previous estimates. This reflects the fact that renewed COVID-19 restrictions are driving our spend on groceries, yet by contrast, shopper sentiment is worsening. Alongside this, 20% of respondents said they plan to save money by not going out for a Christmas meal this year, in another blow to bars and restaurants which will be forced to close during the four week lockdown. Helping shoppers re-create the magic of Christmas cheer in the home is the optimal route to capturing their spend this year, and bring the celebrations to life in ways perhaps not considered in previous seasons. 

Focusing on the personal touch this Christmas

How we will celebrate this year will be shaped by how many of the traditional rituals we’ll hold onto as we head into the peak of the season. The likelihood of the office Christmas party, a big group celebration over the festive period or the family trip to see Santa and his elves in the grotto seems low in 2020. However, there will be smaller, and potentially more sentimental rituals as we cling to these traditions to find comfort in turbulent times. 

As we might expect, 72% believe Christmas will be a quieter affair this year due to social distancing. At the same time 77% say it’s more important than ever to stay in touch with friends and family but perhaps realistically, 61% of households think they’ll be less likely to have family or friends over to their homes this Christmas compared to last Christmas.

Given the difficulty of spending time together this Christmas, a fifth of us said we plan to send more Christmas cards this year and almost half (47%) say they will be real cards, not ones sent online. That personal, human touch will ring through strongly this year, and this is a key theme to bear in mind when communicating with shoppers in 2020.

With all this disruption to our usual Christmas traditions, this year could be the time to create new rituals and ways of connecting with loved ones. With that comes the opportunity for brands and retailers to disrupt traditional ways of meeting the needs of festive shoppers, and to put themselves at the heart of celebrations big and small. 


All insight from Kantar Worldpanel Plus, LinkQ Mobile Survey to 52,487 respondents 10-12 October 2020

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