A Christmas to remember: how Christmas 2021 will be like no other

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By Dr. Sarah Montano, Senior Lecturer in Marketing 
Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham

 So, is Christmas too early and will Christmas be different in 2021?

There has been great excitement in the media over the last week as we have seen the launch of Christmas adverts from all the major brands. John Lewis with its advert based around friendship and the joy of your first Christmas and of course, not forgetting the opportunity to buy the Christmas jumper! Marks and Spencer has two key adverts this year, with their food advert based around the lovable Percy Pig and his first Christmas, voiced by Tom Holland and the Christmas Fairy by Dawn French. Finally, we have the McDonald’s advert with Imaginary Iggy celebrating the joy of Christmas through a child’s eyes and that you are never too old to believe in the magic of Christmas (a theme is developing here!).

This year the Christmas adverts have been released slightly earlier than usual and every year we get the usual chorus of Christmas being too early as retailers open their Christmas ranges in-store and online. So, is Christmas too early and will Christmas be different in 2021? There are a few factors that we can consider.

The impact of the pandemic

With Christmas 2020 a non-event for the vast majority of the UK population, there is a sense that Christmas 2021 will be one to celebrate with the vaccine allowing us to meet loved ones once again. Hence, we see the Christmas adverts mirroring the sense of wonder at Christmas and celebrating Christmas like it is your first Christmas. The launch of Sainsbury’s advert on the 15th November, set to ‘At Last’ directly references this theme – that we have all waited a long time for Christmas. Therefore, with Christmas celebrations goes the need to prepare and buy products (hence the focus of food in many of the adverts). Many consumers will be celebrating this year with family and so will want to get ready in advance.

PwC predict that this year, consumers will spend more on Christmas celebrations as they are able to once again celebrate with loved ones. Some customers like to be organised and will want to have Christmas ‘wrapped up’ by the end of the November so that they can relax and enjoy the season. Also, buying early allows customers to spread the costs over a longer period of time as consumers are mindful that costs, such as energy prices, are rising and feel some uncertainty around this.

Supply chains

Retailers necessarily need to encourage customers to spread their purchases out over a period of time, as they cannot double the size of their stores just before Christmas, hence we see offers in-store in the three months before Christmas. This allows retailers to move their grocery products swiftly through the supply chain and leave capacity in the supply chain to bring in fresh and chilled products much nearer Christmas itself.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Black Friday sales are also one way of encouraging customers to buy early via the use of discounts. Primarily a US event to stimulate post-Thanksgiving sales and introduced to the UK just over 10 years ago, there is now a sense that Black Friday has lost much of its excitement, with customers preferring to focus on the experiences offered by brands, rather than just being attracted by the price point, and this year some brands are planning on opting out of Black Friday, such as M&S.

There is also, Cyber Monday (approximately four weeks before Christmas), the best comparator we have is from 2019, where we can see that November’s online retail sales jumped to 21.6% of total retail sales from October’s 19.1%. Previously, Cyber Monday was a big event in the retail calendar as customers started their Christmas shopping in earnest. However, with the significant increase in online sales over the pandemic, we predict that online sales this Christmas will be part of consumer habits as usual.

The big build up and self-gifting

So, what might we see that is different this year? As well as the anticipation of being united with loved ones, we are also seeing a rising trend known as self-gifting. Over the last few years, there has been a rise in luxury advent calendars, which are highly desired by customers and wait lists often open in early September to drive up the anticipation and excitement. The advent calendars are usually bought by customers for themselves as a self-gift rather than as a gift for others.

After the last 18 months that we have all had, a little bit of self-gifting and self-care is good for the customer, drives up excitement and starts the countdown to Christmas; re-uniting with our loved ones and celebrating Christmas with just a little bit of wonder and magic.

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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