How will Christmas shopping be different this year?

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Have you started your Christmas shopping yet? Despite most of us having nothing but time on our hands sat inside during this lockdown period, the answer for many is still probably no. Christmas shopping was supposed to have started a little earlier than normal this year – just one of the trends we’re likely to see coming out of this anything but normal end to the year.

Indeed, the Christmas shopping picture is likely to look a lot different in 2020, but what can we expect to see as the most prominent themes?

Online sales surge

You can’t shop in stores that aren’t open. As if the world of e-commerce needed any more encouragement in its progress to be come the top shopping format, the complete shutdown of brick and mortar retail this past month, and the intermittent restrictions placed on it throughout the year, means online sales will unsurprisingly dominate this year’s Christmas shopping.

As per Springboard, over the six weeks from Sunday 22nd November to Saturday 26th December, footfall across all UK retail destinations will be down 62% in comparison to 2019. In the worst hit areas, it will sink by 87%. On the flipside, online retail sales this Black Friday are expected to be up 35%-45% on last year’s figures in what could be a “permanent shift” in the retail landscape.

The numbers tell an unsurprising but significant story – that e-commerce will reign supreme over the period.

There will be delays

The impact of the pandemic and the accompanying restrictions on supply chain efforts has been monumental. Amazon customers will remember in the early days of the lockdown, amid toilet roll panic buying and whatever other moral panic taking place, that the monolith retailer’s famed Prime one-day delivery turned into a selection of month long waits for its most in-demand products.

Polarizing supply and demand and limited logistics options have combined through this period to cause virtually every customer a longer-than-usual wait on some products. The problems around the recent next generation games console releases of the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 attest to this.

It’s just one of the reasons many people have started shopping earlier this year. With stock issues and logistical limitations, no one wants to be disappointed this Christmas due to inevitable delays in service.

People will spend less – or will they?

The pandemic, especially in the early days - with small businesses closures, widespread redundancies and uncertainty around the government’s furlough scheme – caused a lot of people to go into economic survival mode, and with good reason. With that legacy still in play, and the likelihood that Christmas will be a much more subdued affair this year, it’s fair to say that the average person will spend less on their Christmas shopping than usual. After all, what’s the point of buying presents for people that you’re not going to see?

Interestingly though, some numbers suggest differently. According to consumer data from American Express, UK shoppers are set to spend an average of £346 on Christmas this year as opposed to £312 in 2019, but why? Funnily enough, as the pandemic and lockdown conditions have progressed, many people have found themselves in more comfortable economic situations. With many working from home, eating in and not going out and socialising, more disposable income is being made available to those in such situations, which could play a factor in higher festive spending.

It could also come down to the type of presents people buy this year. With everyone starved of human contact outside of their bubble and missing the ability to go out an experience even the simplest of pleasures, “experience” gifts, for example event tickets or a holiday, are likely to become more of a thing this year. Such experiences, be it festival tickets or a weekend in London, tend to be higher ticket items, which could in turn drive up the average persons’ spend.

So, what do we know about shopping during a subdued Christmas 2020 period? In general, we know that online sales will dominate, but people will need to be quick to avoid disappointment and delays. Some people will spend less, but a surprising amount may spend more, perhaps engaging in a little retail therapy to make things seem a little better. What is yet to be seen, but likely to happen, is that 2020’s pandemic inspired shopping traits may inspire a shift in the retail habits of the masses and create a legacy that will reshape the world of both physical retail and e-commerce in 2021 and beyond.