Mark Howley, group managing director of ZenithOptimedia, on Christmas trends
There are some perennial ingredients of Christmas that have remained relatively unchanged for many years; legitimised indulgence, celebration and a focus on family and loved ones. However our Christmas shopping habits and behaviours have irrevocably changed from 30, or even 10 years ago. The Future Foundation estimates that 32% of British Mums had already bought a Christmas present by June of this year, whilst 28% of all adults will wait until after 25th December to buy some of their gifts. For many, Christmas now begins on Boxing Day and continues throughout the year. Christmas has shifted towards a whole year of saving, prepping and spending. This trend coupled with the prolific rise in online Christmas sales, means a fundamental shift in our Christmas shopping habits. Therefore, how will these trends impact businesses in the future?
Many consumers anecdotally believe that Christmas is moving earlier, and evidence shows they would be entirely right. Google search volumes for Christmas-related keywords peak earlier each year, with the last week of October now being the key time when consumer interest in Christmas explodes. In addition to this earlier peak in consumer interest; iconic, era-defining Christmas advertisers are launching their campaigns earlier to maximise sales.
Chanel No.5 (the UK’s bestselling fragrance at Christmas) started their 2014 TV campaign on 16th October, compared to 20th November in 2009. At first glance it would seem the answer is to simply start Christmas activity earlier, capitalising on the earlier consumer demand, however, this wholesale shift hides a much more nuanced picture. Research from ZenithOptimedia, has found increasingly polarised Christmas shopping habits that businesses need to factor into Christmas sales strategies and communications. From the research we identified two groups; The Early Gifter and the 11th Hour Gifter.
Early Gifter (representing 58% of all consumers) begins researching heavily in September and begins purchasing in early November. Demographically they tend to skew more female, more downmarket and middle-aged, whilst attitudinally they tend to be more engaged and involved in the categories they are purchasing from (having researched the products extensively) and, critically, are more price sensitive having both the time and savviness to compare prices. Certain high interest and high-ticket categories, such as fragrances, is a more considered purchase and search volumes peak earlier for these kinds of Christmas gifts. The rules of engagement for Early Gifters is to focus on the researching stage by starting early by ensuring a strong digital presence especially in search rankings.
11th Hour Gifter
In contrast to the Early Gifter, the 11th Hour Gifter (representing 18% of all consumers) has a much smaller timeframe between the research stage and point of purchase. Demographically they skew, perhaps unsurprisingly, more male, more upmarket and younger and whilst they are less involved in the categories, they are more impressionable and impulsive in their Christmas purchases. This makes them a valuable segment to advertisers. The rules of engagement for 11th Hour Gifters is to focus on temporal and spatial proximity – leveraging high impact, high frequency sites in the last week before Christmas, intelligently-sited proximity and geo-targeted search and mobile advertising. At a macro level, it would appear that Christmas is getting earlier, when in fact it is simply a sub-segment of Christmas shoppers, albeit a large one, who are researching and purchasing increasingly early.
The biggest change in recent years of course has been the increased importance of online to both research and purchase Christmas gifts. Mintel estimates that online sales at Christmas have doubled since 2008 and online delivers 14% of all Christmas sales (vs. 13% for the rest of the year). A key driver of this has been mobile, both to plan and purchase presents – with £3bn worth of presents being purchased via a mobile in December 2013, accounting for 27% of all online Christmas sales. Key to winning during these key sales days is to ensure that sites are mobile and tablet optimised and intelligently targeted mobile search and online advertising activity is optimised for these periods.
The pull factors of ease, convenience and price comparison are not just the only reasons for the success of online at Christmas, we must also consider the push of the bricks-and-mortar retail experience to online. According to Mintel, women’s second biggest dislike at Christmas is over-crowded shops. To overcome this sense of dread amongst consumers, brands and retailers could look to better publicise their extended Christmas opening hours or click-and-collect offering via press and social channels, promote a personal shopping offering especially to men and provide quiet spaces for customers to relax.
Ultimately, the brands that can provide an easy and convenient retail experience both on and offline are winning at Christmas, especially those that can seamlessly blend the experiential elements of the high street with the convenience, ease and value of online shopping. Given the speed of change in consumer shopping habits at Christmas and the constant improvement in digital technology, it’s difficult to predict exactly what our shopping habits will be in 10 years’ time.
However, it’s safe to say Christmas shopping will move even earlier for our Early Gifters, whilst our 11th Hour shoppers will still be frantically buying last minute presents on Christmas Eve. Data will supercharge all digital plans and mobile will represent the majority of online sales but the shops at Christmas time will still strike fear in the hearts of all. Christmas is Dead, Long Live Christmas.
Mark Howley is the group managing director of ZenithOptimedia
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