The Year That Christmas Came Early…

Every year we say Christmas comes early but this year that might actually be true. Well, it’s certainly true if you count John Lewis launching its festive ad at the beginning of November. Along with nativity plays, and school fetes, the ‘early’ reveal of the department store’s Christmas offering is as sure a sign as ever that we’ve started the festive ramp up.

Russell Scott

And it does indeed look like companies and consumers alike are revving their engines earlier than ever. Online retailer Studio has been touting its early Christmas ads unashamedly since the end of September. Tail end of the pandemic (fingers crossed) notwithstanding, Christmas 2021 looks like being another out-of-the-ordinary shopping season. 

Last year, the challenges came in the form of the stay at home order causing consumers to visit and shop remotely. This year, it’s largely supply chain panics, and a fierce determination to Christmas like you’ve never ‘Christmassed’ before. Perhaps it’s people making up for 2020 that is creating a unique, early winter commercial landscape this year. 

This is no anecdotal, ‘finger in the air’ supposition. Insights from our latest research suggest that if marketers want to make the most of the festive period, there is already some serious activity in the market to be working towards. 

Consumers and their online habits

Take, for example, search behaviour. Clicks on keywords such as ‘gift’ have nearly doubled year on year to October 2021, and are up a massive 334% since 2019. It’s not just idle browsing between Zoom calls either. Our data reveals that retailers are already) enjoying a 19.2% year on year hike in revenue generated from that ‘gift’ keyword. One in five people on Google are already hunting down their stocking fillers. 

There is certainly no shortage of opportunity. Despite restrictions and job worries, the UK economy has continued to grow. It was estimated the average UK consumer had managed to save nearly a fifth of their disposable income (19.9%) by the end of December 2020, up from 16.1% and at the second highest level since records began in 1963. With travel still proving difficult across 2021, there is good reason to assume consumers are looking to treat friends and family – and perhaps even themselves – this Christmas. 

So, how do marketers capitalize on what – with a little planning and agile execution – could be an early Christmas for one and all?

Research your customer

Understand what they’re looking for and how you can help them reach it. Nervousness around supply chain issues may see consumers triaging providers based on guaranteed next day delivery, in stock items and ‘near me’ availability. Understanding which customer segments are time-sensitive will help you target offers accordingly. What search terms are consumers using? Who is most sensitive to changes in the marketplace? How are people changing their behaviour as the big day approaches? Monitor, adjust and test – over and over again.

Respond to changing circumstances

Mainstream news and social media are hot on big consumer stories. Brief crises such as fuel panic buying show just how powerfully consumers react. With anticipated shortages of certain key Christmas items, it’s vital to have a range of messaging tailored to customer segments ready to deploy, either to calm or even attract worried consumers. 

Tell a joined-up story

With a volatile marketplace and equally volatile customer behaviour, it’s important messaging matches capability. For example, while a carefully targeted campaign may be ready to launch post Black Friday, there’s no point putting significant spend behind it if stock is already low or depleted. Matching messaging to real-time inventory has never been more important. 

Think customer first

More than ever during this critical shopping season, the consumer is on a mission. They have a defined objective, a price they are willing to pay and a window in which to receive the goods. They need to be able to find this information quickly, and be able to trust it. While companies focus on making sure their messaging in ads and over email is agile, the same can’t necessarily be said of their websites and online stores. Making sure customers can find the information they need on desktop, mobile – even via social and connected TV – will be critical to winning the race in a marketplace where every man and their dog is competing for that purchase. 

Marketers often talk about satisfying consumer needs and then in the same breath, delight in the scarcity value that some items generate. Some of us are veterans of the Tracy Island debacle back in 1992. 

But there is a sense this year that brands should genuinely be pulling for the consumer. There continue to be many issues outside retailers’ and manufacturers’ control. But by demonstrating a strong commitment to transparency, trustworthiness and helpfulness, brands can win Christmas, even if it feels they sometimes have one hand tied behind their backs. 

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