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PEAK 2021 Will shoppers spend more than ever this Christmas – or not at all? Plus John Lewis ad launch

Will UK shoppers buy all online, in stores, or even not at all, this Black Friday and Christmas? That’s the question being asked by a number of studies that aim to forecast shopping behaviour over the coming peak trading season. The launch of the John Lewis Christmas ad – across sales channels –  gets that season off to a start, while the peak will be expected around Black Friday itself, this year falling on November 26. 

Shoppers predicted to spend record £84.7bn this Christmas

Shoppers are expected to spend a record £84.7bn over the peak shopping period, one new study suggests.

The Global Data study, commissioned by VoucherCodes, and building on previous data from the Centre for Retail Research, predicts that the first unrestricted Christmas since Covid-19 began will see retail sales rise by 6.3% in the six weeks running up to Christmas, compared to the £79,7bn spent over the same period in 2020.

Last year, the second national lockdown meant that non-essential shops were closed between November 5 and December 2, making much of peak trading and Black Friday sales events online-only. Then on December 21, London and the South East went into tier four, closing those shops once more. 

This year, assuming shops remain open, the forecast suggests that shoppers will spend £12.4bn (+6%) on gifts, including consumer electronics (£2.7bn), toys (£2.3bn), clothing and footwear (£2.1bn). 

Angus Drummond, senior director, commercial at VoucherCodes, says: “As the retail industry gets back on its feet recovering from huge challenges of the pandemic, our report’s prediction for this Christmas is the welcome news the industry has been waiting for.

“Last year’s store closures and lockdown regulations were devastating for many retailers, so it’s particularly encouraging to see that sales will not only recover from 2020, but will exceed pre-pandemic results. This Christmas could mark the start of the turning point for brands hopeful for a profitable 2022.”

John Lewis ad launches online, on social, on mobile app and in-store

The John Lewis ad launched across sales channels yesterday. Unexpected Guest, which tells the story of a young boy welcoming in unexpected super-powered space traveller Skye at Christmas, launched via email to loyalty scheme members on the John Lewis website and social media channels first, before airing on TV. 

The ad is being brought in-store, at ten John Lewis Christmas emporiums, while on social, two Snapchat lenses enable selfies and playing with Skye’s spaceship. My John Lewis members will exclusively be able to interact with the ad through virtual experiences on the website and app. 

Claire Pointon, director of customer at John Lewis, says: “There is nothing more magical than discovering the joy of Christmas for the first time and enjoying your favourite festive moments with loved ones. After the last 18 months, we wanted our advert to really celebrate this as we look forward to a brighter future. We know our customers are excited for this festive season more than ever, as they reconnect with family and friends. Through the story of Skye and Nathan we celebrate friendship and are reminded of the joy of experiencing Christmas for the first time.”

Shoppers set to buy across channels 

Most UK shoppers will buy online via retail sites (70%), and brand sites (37%) over the Black Friday period – but 45% prefer to buy in person, including at department stores (27%). UK baby boomers also prefer to shop in-store (55%).  More than a third (38%) say they will buy more online than they did last year, and 91% say their online shopping habits are likely to stay the same in the future. 

The GWI/Blue Yonder study questioned 13,394 UK and US adults, and found that shoppers are looking to make up for 2020, with almost a third (30%) planning to spend more this year. More than a third (34%) are looking to buy technology gifts, while 63% will buy clothing and accessories, 50% entertainment, and 46% jewellery, whereas 39% are giving an experience. 

But there are concerns, with almost half (48%) of Black Friday shoppers either moderately or extremely concerned about Covid variants. And 29% say they’ll be planning at least a month in advance, perhaps in the face of supply chain issues and threatened shortages.

“While we’re still having to contend with Covid-19 concerns, people are ready to celebrate the holiday season with loved ones – the way we’re used to doing,” says Katie Gilsenan, trends manager at GWI. She adds: “Fuelled by concerns around stock shortages, more people are getting organised earlier in a bid to ensure they have the Christmas they hope for. This all means retailers have to work that bit harder to keep up with increased demand for certain products and ensure they don’t lose out.”

“Christmas has always been the most important time for retailers,” says Wayne Snyder, VP of retail industry at Blue Yonder. “Over the past few years, however, we’ve seen that spending has started to take place much sooner, with consumers looking to make the most out of seasonal sales on days such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Singles Day. Now we’re seeing a shift away from buying ‘things’ to buying ‘experiences’ – all of these changes have a serious impact on the long-term health of supply chain functionality, and the survival of retail.”

Christmas doubts

One study suggests that expectations of Christmas are somewhat uncertain this year, after plans had to be cancelled at short notice last year. Research from Momentive – previously SurveyMonkey – suggests that 57% of UK adults aren’t planning to travel this Christmas and 31% are cancelling their Christmas plans because of Covid-19 uncertainty and safety concerns. That represents a fall from last year, when 63% cancelled plans entirely, but suggests that a substantial minority still don’t feel confident. 

Perhaps in tune with this, 83% of the 1,354 UK adults who took part in the study say they’ll spend the same amount or less than last year, while 36% plan on spending less on Christmas in general, and 47% planning to stay with 2020 spending limits. Only 13% will spend more. 

Some 29% say they don’t plan on shopping for Christmas this year – but 30% are starting their shopping this month. That’s perhaps driven by the concern that 31% of UK adults have about whether the much mentioned supply chain issues will affect their Christmas shopping. Concern is higher among the 18-34 age group (43% are worried) than among those aged between 35 and 64 (31%) or those aged 65 upwards (17%). 

“The pandemic has highlighted the opportunity for companies to reach consumers in new ways. With supply chain lags and ongoing disruption for the travel industry, it’s critical that organizations ensure they’re offering a great customer experience whether it’s in-store, online or a hybrid of the two,” says Graham Douglas, managing director EMEA at Momentive. “By asking what could be improved or what went wrong with a delivery, product, service or interaction for instance, brands can innovate alongside customer wants and needs to stay competitive.”

Potential shortages and sustainability

A Yahoo study also sees nearly half of UK shoppers concerned about potential shortages (46%) and finances, this Christmas, and hyper aware of sustainability issues around packaging waste from online shopping (79%). Some 63% of the more than 2,000 UK adults questioned plan to start shopping before Christmas, 16% will spend less, and 39% will use buy now pay later services to spread the cost of Christmas. 

Four in 10 (41%) say they will buy equally online and in-store, up from 27% last year. 

“From supply chain disruption, sustainability issues and financial strains, this year’s survey has revealed some key concerns amongst UK shoppers in the lead up to the festive season” says Josh Partridge, managing director and VP UK, and co-head of EMEA at Yahoo. 

“As we approach one of the busiest shopping periods of the year, it’s therefore critical for marketers and brands to reflect on how they can respond to these anxieties through their own campaigns and strategies. Those that do will help to facilitate a more effective and joined up shopper experience for consumers, customers and brands alike – helping to build not only shopper confidence, but loyalty in the long term.” 

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