It’s been a nervous start to Christmas for the retailers. Shoppercentric managing director Danielle Pinnington writes:
Concerns about this being another difficult Christmas seemed to be evidenced by a slower than normal build in sales in the run up to Christmas week. Even in our own research we’ve found fewer shoppers in grocery stores starting to stock up for Christmas lunch than would normally be the case at this time of the year. Yet we also know from shoppers that Christmas is such an important family occasion that they will always do their best to make it a special time of year, regardless of what else might be going on. So even when budgets are squeezed, UK families find enough in the budget to make it special.
So, is the slow build in spending about families spending less or is something else going on?
Certainly some commentators have discussed whether there is some huge game of chicken taking place! Retailers and shoppers in a standoff to see who will blink first – will retailers lose their nerve and bring in promotions early, or will shoppers wobble and start spending as normal.
We think there’s a lot to support this idea, not least the fact that a much more savvy shopper mindset has emerged from the credit crunch and recession. And these shoppers have increasingly long memories – so if last year they saw the tins of chocolates on offer at £5, that is the minimum they expect to pay this year. And it would seem they are perfectly happy to sit and wait until those same, or better offers emerge. Because they also know that the Christmas favourites rarely go out of stock – most grocery chains sell pretty much the same products, so someone, somewhere in their local area will have stock, or they could order it online.
So, yes, perhaps there is a battle of wills going on in the grocery sector. But is something different happening in relation to other product categories, such as those typically bought as presents?
Again, think back to last year when the ‘Boxing Day Sales’ started before Christmas Day. How many shoppers found the present they had bought earlier in the month at a reduced price just before Christmas? With their more savvy mindset, such shoppers will be wanting to avoid a similar situation this year, and may well have taken heart from the media reports of a slow start to Christmas. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that the surge in spending was this weekend when retailers started running flash sales such as 20% off today only / this weekend only.
UK shoppers are a canny bunch. Yes, they want to spend less if they can, but it’s not all about fixed budgets or lowest cost, it is primarily about getting the most out of their money. And increasingly the retailers are finding that they have to be quick to catch them out.