Are consumers getting bored of Christmas shopping?

It’s that time of year again. The Christmas adverts have started. Reindeers with rosy red noses are appearing in shop windows. Cafes incessantly play Michael Bublé much to the annoyance of their staff who blank it out by cranking up the steam on the coffee machine while creating that seasonal [delete as required] cinnamon / spiced apple / mince pie / gingerbread flavoured latte.

Between 1647 and 1660 Christmas was officially banned by Oliver Cromwell. Now, whilst it was for religious reasons, is there something to be said for the fact that Christmas should be for respectful contemplation, rather than creating in excess of five million tonnes of waste and inciting a frenzy of shopping for items that are tucked in a drawer or disposed of by springtime.

I know what you’re thinking. Connected Path is a digital marketing consultancy that helps ecommerce sites spend their marketing budget for maximum impact. So why would we be anti-commerce at Christmas? And for anyone that knows me personally I’m sure you’d be asking the same question, why would someone who loves the twinkle of Christmas lights and festive cheer be writing an anti-Christmas article. It’s not, please bear with me.

The Conscious Consumer

2018 saw a turning point in what people consumed. Almost overnight plastic straws became a social faux pas, while demand for meat-free food increased 987% (going vegan is predicted to be the biggest food trend of 2018) and we saw the launch of an enquiry into the sustainability of the fast fashion industry. People are starting to think more about mass-consumerism and the impact their life choices, big and small, are having on the world.

But what will happen as we are propelled into the peak of this so-called Golden Quarter? Will these new ideals perforate the shopping frenzy traditions that so many businesses come to rely on for their annual trading figures?

Apparently not.

Whilst confidence amongst the analysts is tepid, and predictions indicate growth for most sectors, but at a slower pace we’re still expecting that people will spend, and significantly.

The Christmas Tradition of Spending

It’s predicted that Gen X (people aged between 38 - 53) plan to spend the most, with an expected average spend of £425.10. Millennials (ages 22 – 37) are next up at £416.73, followed by Baby Boomers (ages 54 – 72) at £350.68.

But perhaps this is no surprise, with companies such as Amazon selling real Christmas trees for the first time this year, retailers are encouraging the desires of the consumer at Christmas, and that desire is to spend money.

Singles Day surpasses Black Friday or Cyber Monday globally for the biggest shopping day of the year, but is yet to really catch on the UK. Over the past few years Black Friday in the UK has become a shopping phenomenon, but last year some criticised the hype and mass discounting. Footfall to stores has just reported the eleventh consecutive month of decline, with predictions that shoppers are holding back on purchasing, waiting for Black Friday.

Retailers Poised to Win

So who will win in this tussle? Surely the not UK high street. Ecommerce continues to grow, with 50% of GenZ planning on solely using their smartphone for buying this Christmas period. I think it’s the experience retailers, the niche retailers, and companies with sustainability at their heart that will come into their own. Not to mention the incredible explosion in Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) startups.

Social media influence is making it much easier for small niche brands to grow their presence. These are retailers who thrive on the advocacy of others to validate their relatively unknown products as cool, ethical, bespoke, individual or simply great value for money. These companies don’t need masses of marketing spend to tip the scales in their favour. Plus, the ease of advertising on the likes of Instagram means they don’t require full time, experienced marketing teams to get their product in front of appropriate audiences.

People still want to shop and to give gifts. For anything mass produced I feel like Amazon is winning, but for everything else, I think these niche retailers are the ones set to have a very happy Christmas.

Looking to the Future

If 2018 was the tipping point perhaps it’s too late for this Christmas to look anything other than ‘traditional’. But is it paving the way for a real disruptive shift in our Christmas spending habits, with more meaningful spending? Away from buying certain groceries ‘because its tradition’, away from fast fashion that’s near single-use in its durability, away from gifting that bears no emotional connection to the other person.

Perhaps in the future the biggest retailers will look at the disruptive startups as a source of inspiration, making their sustainability and individuality felt more keenly, re-connecting with their customers who can feel proud of their shopping decisions, not because they’ve bagged a bargain, but because they chose to purchase something that was bought to enhance someone’s life.