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UK retailers boost online capacity and plan to offer greater discounts as they prepare for an uptick in festive holiday spending

Black Friday: cautious optimism

Research from Capgemini suggests that retailers are feeling cautiously optimistic about the festive shopping season, despite uncertainty around physical store openings and holiday sales patterns.

According to the findings of Capgemini’s annual holiday survey, over a third (36%) of UK retailers expect an increase in sales – and half of shoppers (51%) expect to shop online more this holiday season than in previous years.

In anticipation of this, 91% of retailers have taken deliberate steps to bolster their online offering; 47% have improved their website or ecommerce proposition, 37% have increased their web traffic capacity and 20% have introduced new virtual shopping experiences. 

To further attract customers, 52% of retailers will offer greater discounts both online and in-store, while almost a third (31%) plan to offer a larger range of discounted products online. However, despite these preparations, retailers are less confident that they can accurately predict sales patterns this holiday season compared to last year (26% compared to 46% in 2019). The threat of lockdowns has been the leading cause of uncertainty (62%), while half of retailers (49%) blame supply chain disruption and almost one in three (29%) say the data they base their planning on isn’t accurate due to COVID-19.

At the same time, only 11% consumers expect to spend more than usual this Black Friday, with just over a third (34%) suggesting they plan to spend less. Less disposable income was cited as the main reason for this (44%).

The research also uncovered the following trends…

Consumers will prioritise essentials, young will spend the most

The biggest spenders this holiday season will be younger generations. More than a third (37%) of 18-24-year-olds and 40% of 25-34-year-olds say they have saved money since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with the intention of spending it around Black Friday and the holiday sales period. Consumers in higher income brackets are also more likely to spend more this year than previous years. Compared to a global average of 14%, 38% of those on a salary of £64,000 and above plan to spend more.

When it comes to what people are intending to buy, only half of all holiday season purchases (31%) will be for essential items. Consumers will prioritize essential goods for themselves and others (44%) over buying gifts (35%) or treating themselves (21%). However, luxury items – which only 18% of consumers plan to buy – remain in demand for younger age groups (27%) and those at higher income levels (34%).

Impulse spending will drop as consumers plan ahead

Half of shoppers (51%) expect to shop more online this holiday season than in previous years, with lockdowns enforcing this in some regions. Globally, the preference for in-store shopping on Black Friday is set to drop from 39% last year to 28% this year.

While Capgemini’s research was conducted before new lockdowns were put in place in nations such as France and the UK, those regions where retailers are currently set to stay open in November are still affected. The biggest physical footfall decline will be seen in the US, where in-store shopping is expected to drop by 15 percentage points: just 27% of holidays purchases will be made in shops this year, down from 42% last year. For those consumers who are able to shop in-store, 33% will only go to shops when they know what they want to purchase and 32% will research what they plan to buy in advance, suggesting that impulse spending will fall.

Retailers have readied themselves for change

Despite uncertainty around spending patterns, the majority of UK retailers have changed their strategies to account for consumers’ financial and health-related anxieties. Nearly half of (46%) retailers are offering more discounts across the product range or more single-day or timed discounts (42%) compared to previous years. Over eight in ten (83%) have introduced new delivery options this year, 44% have brought in free delivery and 37% have introduced click and collect or curbside pick-up.

Retailers aren’t forgetting about the in-store experience either: 94% of retailers have taken steps to attract customers in store, 60% have restricted numbers in their shops to ensure social distancing, while 44% have introduced more touchless payment options. New lockdowns will not mean these efforts have been made in vain, with restrictions due to relax in December in the UK and France, a late surge in Christmas shoppers could be more easily accommodated.

“The holiday sales forecast for the UK is particularly complicated this year,” says Steve Hewett, VP, Global lead for retail customer engagement at Capgemini. “National lockdowns have resulted in a large number of people building up savings, but 3 in 5 UK consumers we surveyed had no intention on using this on increased holiday spending. While it remains unclear just how much people will spend, it’s the changes around how people will shop that appear more certain.

“The second lockdown will inevitably lead to further reduction in impulse purchases and will reduce demand in categories closely linked to business, leisure and entertainment. And with 50% of UK consumers we surveyed planning to make more use of online in the run up to Black Friday and Christmas – even categories where demand will be strong will face a tough fight to capture the attention and spend of customers that have shifted online through choice or necessity. Retailers that have managed to improve their online operations, who have put in place new technology and processes to provide better experiences online and in-stores and who have quickly grown their digital marketing muscles will be best placed to capture sales this holiday season, but will have also set themselves onto a stronger footing for the inevitably digital led shopping future ahead.”

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