The Season for Spending 2023 – back to the store, Barbie and a Panettone!

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Shopping bags with a Christmas theme

By Professor Sarah Montano, Deputy Head of Marketing

It is that time of year again! For TV channels it is the time of quaint small towns and snowy scenes, and for retailers it is the Golden Quarter when they seek to maximise their revenue streams. But what does this mean for customers? Given the cost-of-living crisis, what impact might this have on Christmas shopping habits and what have been the trends of 2023?

Where and when are we shopping? Back to the store!

There is always the perennial complaint that “Christmas starts too early,” with tubs of Quality Street and the like. Arriving in-store at roughly the same time as the summer BBQs. But as much as we might moan, early arrivals are good for both customers and retailers as they allow customers to spread the cost of their Christmas shopping across a few months and for the retailer it smooths out their supply chain, so they are not trying to get all the Christmas products into their stores in the last few weeks.

Back to in-store! Online shopping reached a peak of 38.7% of total retail sales in January 2021, since then there has been a steady decline, to 25.2% in August 2023, with a small peak expected in November as we start our Christmas shopping. In December 2022 and January 2023 footfall reached a peak with a significant return to the high street, shopping centres and retail parks. This Christmas, whilst footfall is likely to be slightly lower on our high-streets as shoppers head to retail parks and shopping centres, where the big brands are based and shopping is convenient. Customers still find enjoyment and value in store where you can try out the product, socialise and get immediate gratification from treating themselves to something shiny (and get a Christmas coffee on the way home!).

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have crossed the Atlantic to become firm fixtures in our retail diary. Retailers will schedule their festive sales around Black Friday. Although, it is important to remember that something is only a bargain if you need it or are going to gift it! Cyber Monday is a continuing trend and is not so much about a bargain for customers but about getting ready for Christmas. Cyber Monday happens approximately four weeks before Christmas and starts in earnest as customers realise that Christmas is upon them, and they best get their gifts. Arguably, Cyber Monday is more of an important date for the retailer who will be prepared, and have their warehouses fully stocked, ready for those online orders.

When and where are we not shopping?

This year many retailers have taken the decision to close for two or three days over the festive period. The vast majority of the large supermarkets such Aldi, Lidl and Waitrose will be closed for Christmas Day and Boxing Day giving their employees a well-earned rest after the busyness of the Golden Quarter. Some retailers are also closed on New Year’s day – so check before you travel! If you are keen to spend any Christmas vouchers, then the online sales will all be starting on Christmas Eve.

Sadly, this year we have seen the demise of the much-loved retailer Wilko from our high streets showing just how challenging the retailer sector still is.

What are we buying (not a Christmas Pud!)?

With the Barbie film being 2023’s biggest box office hit and making £1.1bn globally – for many children this year – at the top of their list will be the Barbie dreamhouse and even at Primark the grown-ups can feel the Kenergy and buy a “Kenough” Snuddie.

What will we all be buying; this year the answer is not a Christmas Pud but a Panettone! Selfridges are reporting that a Panettone is the new “champion of the Christmas grub!” with a 120% increase in sales. Retailers are now offering a wide variety of Panettone such as salted caramel or Limoncello. Asda are also reporting that customers are seeking out alternative to the traditional Christmas dinner with demand for beef wellington up by 1,235% (there is also a vegan sharing wellington from Waitrose). Speaking of a vegan wellington – Vegan and vegetarian food is popular this year with retailers offering some creative seasonal combinations.

What is Santa bringing this year? The top toy trends that Santa will be bringing are Squishmallows – loveable, cuddly squishy toys; the ever popular Lego and a Furby! Of course, we cannot consider Santa’s list without the key trend of the year Barbie! With the Barbie film being 2023’s biggest box office hit and making £1.1bn globally – for many children this year – at the top of their list will be the Barbie dreamhouse and even at Primark the grown-ups can feel the Kenergy and buy a “Kenough” Snuddie.

However, 2023 has been a difficult year with grocery inflation reaching a peak of 19% in March 2023 and customers feeling like supermarket prices were rising week on week. There are some positive signs on the horizon with inflation slowing in November to 9.1% and the Christmas dinner only expected to be up 1.3% year-on-year. This year many retailers started offering loyalty card prices, so there should be some Christmas dinner discounts in the next few weeks. It is likely that as many customers are still concerned about the cost-of-living that they will be buying less this year, with KPMG suggesting that one third of customers will spend less on Christmas groceries.

Shopping centres and retail parks are still going to be busy this year, so get ready to squabble over the last pack of sprouts while listening to Wham on repeat!

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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