Buying ‘one-time wears’ and self-gifting: A new kind of Christmas

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By Dr Charika Channuntapipat and Dr Sarah Montano
University of Birmingham

Christmas this year will be quite different, with family celebrations limited to the 23rd to 27th December and the vast majority of England in Tier 2 or Tier 3, meaning that Christmas parties are a distant memory and there is no need to buy party outfits! So, what will retail look like this Christmas season – will we see consumers acting more responsibly and if so, what does this mean for business?

Hybrid responsible consumption

We propose that this year will not be as consumerist as in previous years, but equally that consumers will not be fully responsible. In fact, research from PWC notes that this year consumers are focusing less on sustainable gifting, especially in the older age groups. This leads us to argue further that this Christmas will be the Christmas of self-indulgence and self-care, as consumers seek to boost their morale and self-esteem by self-gifting. This year beauty advent calendars have been particularly popular as consumers engage in pre-Christmas pampering. Let’s consider the impact of hybrid responsible consumption on fast-fashion retailers and businesses.

Given that this will be the season of self-care and self-indulgence, what does this mean for fast-fashion consumption? Will consumers still be queuing at Primark to buy their Christmas jumpers or party dresses? The surge in recent post lockdown spending indicates that actually consumers do still want to shop cheaply and not particularly responsibly. So, consumers may still shop at fast-fashion retailers to pick up the ‘wear once’ Christmas jumpers and party accessories.

Not spending less, but spending differently

These observations, and the big queues in front of Primark, are aligned with the PWC’s report anticipating that consumers will spend either the same as 2019 or more. This indicates that consumers will not be more responsible by spending less overall, but rather they will spend differently. Given that we anticipate that this Christmas consumers will be self-indulgent, this would mean that they will be spending on upgrading everyday items e.g. buying luxury lounge wear or luxury festive candles. However, what consumers might do less is to buy ‘wear once’ Christmas party outfits or buy a Christmas outfit, wear it and return it.

Fundamentally, being responsible and not buying anything is bad for business. This is where we believe that there will be a key difference from Christmas 2019, and we might see an increase in responsible behaviours. Whilst many consumers will spend with familiar brands such as John Lewis and Amazon, many consumers who have switched their behaviour to spending locally during the pandemic will continue to do so.

For those consumers who want to buy online, we anticipate that online retailers that facilitate local or purchases from small businesses, such as Etsy or Not On The High Street will prove popular this year. Perhaps consumers will want a new Christmas tree but rather than buying an artificial tree they will buy a real tree from their local florist or garden centre.

In conclusion, it is important to balance between your festive happiness (i.e. self-gifting and indulgence) and responsible consumption. This might be a cliché but we would encourage you to think about the 7 Res:

  • Rethink – Do you really need it?
  • Refuse – Say no to festive items that you will use only once!
  • Reduce – Do not use ‘festive season’ as a reason to over-consume.
  • Reuse – Do not throw away festive items that can be reused next year.
  • Repair – Can you repair things that you already have, and use them instead of buying new ones?
  • Repurpose – Can you adjust the purpose of items you already own so that you can use them in the coming festive season?
  • Recycle – If you think about disposing something, try to find a way to recycle it first.

Thinking about these 7 Res might even make your Christmas shopping more enjoyable, and you will also be able to consume more responsibly.  

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham.

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