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It’s utterly fascinating how Christmas creeps up on unsuspecting retailers. In a world of many uncertainties one thing you can predict with pinpoint accuracy is Christmas. This year the day the fat man visits will be 25th December, which falls on a Thursday (just in case you were wondering).

Myer may have set a new record for first off the mark with their first clear Christmas communication, delivered into my inbox on 20th September.

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The unwritten rule has long been that the season to be jolly doesn’t get shoved into shopper’s faces until after Labour Weekend. And even then a few lucky retailers enjoy the opportunities that Halloween and Guy Fawkes present before they get into the full throes of Christmas.

You can find Christmas product now on a number of retailer websites, especially notable at The Warehouse and Countdown, but this sits ok with me. Start to pepper Christmas wares to get on the shopper’s radar but surely don’t start with the OTT festivities? According to my over-the-Tasman contacts, Bunnings in Australia had their in-store decorations up in late September.

But what is the best way to interface with shopper behaviour? How do you not jump the gun too early or be underprepared (you know who you are!).

GfK research in Australia ran a Christmas gifting study earlier this year called Project Rudolph (love it) with 2000 shoppers, across 15 categories, and all major online and physical retail channels to better understand Christmas shopping behaviour. It grabbed my attention and so retailers of New Zealand, take note and use the learnings for Christmas 2014 and beyond.

Insights and statistics

During Christmas 2013, as a percentage of the total gift purchases

  • 77% were physical gifts
  • 17% were gift cards
  • 6% were experiences and events

Gift cards and experiences are both on the rise YOY, largely because some consumers ‘already have everything’, particularly the older families and empty nesters, making it increasingly challenging for people who have to buy for them to find the right gift.

  • The average number of Christmas gifts purchased by each shopper was 19 gifts for a total of 10 recipients
  • Total average spend was $754 across those 19 gifts (or around $39 per gift)
  • At least 1 gift was purchased on impulse
  • Young families were likely to buy more items, with a higher total basket spend due to an average of 4 gifts per child (at least on this stat I am spot on)

Christmas shopping is becoming a managed process 

As shoppers feel more time poor, Christmas shopping is becoming a managed process. Kris Kringle (or Secret Santa) has spread out of the workplace and found its way into the family. One third of Australian families have adopted this trend with another 25 per cent planning saying they will try Kris Kringle for Christmas 2014. Our family (excluding the kiddies of course) have adopted this and set a limit of $50 per person. This is a real opportunity for retailers in a number of categories with a typically lower spend of $20-50…think gift cards, liquor, decorative homewares like Ecoya candles and health & beauty.

According to the research, in the $50 to $100 range it’s more likely to be on categories the recipient is specifically interested in, such as apparel and accessories, home entertainment, personal electronics and the like.

Seamless Christmas experiences

Apparently Myer were spot on. The research indicates that this “management of the gift shopping process” and a lack of Christmas cues online (no Bing Crosby carols or decs on your website), means retailers and brands need to ensure their websites exude Christmas in their design (not just product and price), as early as October. Online Christmas purchases tend to happen during November so shoppers can be sure their gifts will arrive in time. Shoppers typically allow two weeks for delivery of Christmas gifts ordered online.

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A jolly occasion to shop?

Christmas is polarising and shopping experiences can range from delightful to stressful. If you are anything like me you start out with a romanticised notion of what’s going to happen but the stress of everything else (kids finishing school, work pressures before the leave period, Christmas catch-ups, too much consumption) serves to kill the passion. The GfK research tells us a quarter of participants try to get Christmas gift shopping over and done with as quickly as possible, and only 16% actually enjoy shopping for Christmas presents.

If the main stressors for Christmas shoppers are noise, crowds, and parking then retailers need to find ways to ease the pressure to ensure they are selected as a destination of choice. Think super-duper easy, one-stop destination.

Ironically, the one stop shop does, for some shoppers, mean the loss of  the “specialness” of Christmas. So retailers who can curate unique gifts have a special attraction. Couple that with ease of shopping - great access to the store, trading hours, click & collect and deliver – and you have a recipe for success.

Gimme, gimme, gimme a solution

  • At least one of the 19 gifts per Christmas shopper bought on impulse
  • Just over half of Christmas shoppers start planning and researching Christmas gifts before November
  • Young families use the July toy sales to plan for Christmas
  • Nearly 30 per cent of shoppers are planning and researching Christmas gifts during September and October
  • When planning and researching, more than half of all shoppers use a combination of online and physical stores to research
  • 23 per cent use online only for planning and research (that’s me!)
  • 55 per cent use a combination of online and physical stores to shop – underestimate the importance of the physical store at your peril

And while this is Australian research, experience tells me it is not far removed from what we are experiencing in NZ.

So have you got your Christmas plan together? Really? Does the product, pricing, promotional and communication activity and store execution seamlessly connect with your bricks & mortar (offline), bricks & clicks (online) and clicks & mortar (click n collect) strategy?

Let’s not stop the check list there. Have you put the shopper at the heart of your offer and do you have a defined plan of attack of how you will make her life easier in the planning, research and purchase phases? Have you timed activity to ensure you get on the shopping list and you stay there throughout the festive period? Are all your touch points covered?

And if the answer to any of the above isn’t yes, is there time to put it right? Yes. Just. If you fly like a reindeer because remember, Christmas will be here on 25th December (that’s 85 days away)

Source research: GfK Australia, Project Rudolph, 2014

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