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Retailers face ‘uphill struggle’ to egg on Easter buying, study suggests

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Retailers face “an uphill struggle” to encourage hard-up shoppers to buy this Easter. Not only do merchants face the challenge that consumers have less to spend, but there’s also “a growing apathy towards Easter as an occasion” – and that’s affecting the gift market. So says Webloyalty research into Easter retail trends carried out by retail analyst Conlumino.

Conlumino forecasts relatively slow retail growth this Easter, predicting that retail sales will rise by 2.4% to £324bn in 2014, with Easter retail spending up by 3.2% to £4.3bn. Faster growth is expected to come in food and grocery sales (+4.5% year-on-year growth is predicted), while the gift market is expected to stay flat (+1.4%).

Meanwhile, 72.8% of consumers feel Easter has become too commercial, while for 47.4%, Easter is relatively or totally unimportant. “Early indications are,” said the report, “that despite the increase in consumer confidence and a seemingly resurgent economy, consumer attitudes to spending at Easter will remain fairly static this year with the vast majority of consumers (79.7%) intending to spend about the same as they did in 2013.”

But, the report also argues, although there’s less interest in Easter as an occasion for gifts, there are still retail opportunities. Easter, says the study, is still seen as a time to cook a special meal and to get into the garden. The appeal of Easter eggs also endures: 42.4% plan to buy them for children, while 34.2% will buy them for adults. Thorntons and Lindt are the most popular brands, while supermarket own brands are often overlooked despite scoring well in taste tests. That presents an opportunity for supermarkets to promote their own chocolate eggs (most likely to be bought as part of a multi-buy offer) as well as Easter food.

Digital and online commerce can both be useful tools to take advantage of those retail opportunities, combating apathy and boosting sales, both online and in-store. Retailers who focus on social media this Easter can help to engage shoppers and boost spending. Bringing digital technology into store can also have a marked effect.

In research carried out for Webloyalty, Conlumino pointed to the Cadbury’s Have a fling with a crème egg campaign as an example of the use of social media to boost consumer awareness of Easter eggs. In particular, suggests the report, supermarkets could promote their own-brand eggs using social media.

But, says Conlumino’s managing director Neil Saunders, it’s important that use of social media is engaging and interesting. Content such as good recipes for cooking the perfect lamb, or making Easter cakes, or family entertainment can help drive sales. “People who are engaged with social media are much more likely to buy,” says Saunders. And while such content may drive shoppers to the store to buy, the chances are higher that they’ll purchase online. Not only are social media users more likely to be online shoppers, but, says Saunders, “it’s a simple click through to the website to buy products.”

Examples of technology brought into store at Easter include Asda’s augmented reality Easter egg hunt, held last year. But, cautions Saunders, “you don’t want gimmicky technology. It has to serve some purpose.” At the same time, he says, grocers must be particularly aware of the need for such technology to operate effectively in busy stores.

Saunders also sees a real opportunity for retailers to boost their online sales at Easter. “I think people are very willing to buy big bulk orders online, like at Christmas. Easter is a bit food occasion for people, and people like to get their big orders in.” He added: “It’s worth investing in capacity over the period and advertising to drive sales online.”

The report, commissioned by reward programme provider Webloyalty, also advises retailers focus on multi-buy offers, especially where they involve food, encourage family fun, take control of the manufacturing process through measures such as direct sourcing, in order to keep supply chain costs down, and plan for unexpected weather.

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