Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

T’was the year that Christmas came early

By Russell Scott, Performance Director at Incubeta 

It feels as though Christmas is here earlier every year, but this time it may  just be true. If you count John Lewis launching its festive ad at the beginning of November, then maybe Christmas has come early. Along with nativity plays, and school fetes, the reveal of the department store’s Christmas offering is as sure a sign that we’ve fired the starting gun for Santa than anything. 

 It does  look like retailers  and  customers alike are preparing for Saint Nic earlier than ever. Online retailer Studio has been eagerly promoting its early Christmas ads since September. At the end of the pandemic (fingers crossed) notwithstanding, Christmas 2021 looks like being another unique shopping season. 

Last year, lockdowns caused challenges for consumers meaning they had to shop online most of the time. 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 not guesswork. Insights from Incubeta’s 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. 

Shoppers and their online behaviour

As an example, search behaviour revealed that consumers were preparing for an early festive season. Clicks on keywords such as ‘gift’ have nearly doubled year-on-year to October 2021, and have increased a massive 334% since 2019. It’s not just idle browsing between Zoom calls either. Incubeta’s data reveals that retailers are already enjoying a 19.2% year-on-year hike in revenue generated from the keyword ‘gift’. In fact, 1 in 5 people on Google are already searching for their stocking fillers. 

There is plenty of opportunity. Despite restrictions and job worries, the UK economy has grown. The average UK consumer had managed to save approximately a fifth of their disposable income (19.9%) by the end of December 2020, an increase from 16.1% and at the second highest level since records began in 1963. As travel is still proving difficult throughout 2021, it’s fair to assume consumers want  to dote on friends and family – and even themselves – this Christmas. 

So, how do marketers capitalise on an early Christmas?

Know your consumer

Understand what consumers are searching for and the part you play in helping them reach it. Supply chain issues may see consumers prioritising providers based on next day delivery, in stock items and ‘near me’ availability. Being aware of which customer segments are time-sensitive will help to target offers accordingly. What search terms are being used? Who is most sensitive to shifts in the marketplace? How is consumer  behaviour changing as the big day approaches? Monitor, adjust and test – and then do it again.

React to fluctuating circumstances

News and social media are big on consumer stories. Short-lived crises, such as panic buying fuel, shows how intensely consumers react. With expected shortages of some key Christmas items, it’s vital to have a range of messaging for specific customer segments ready either to reassure or even attract worried consumers. 

Consistency is key

With an unsettled marketplace and equally unsettled customer behaviour, it’s important your messaging and capability match up. If stock is already low or depleted, it’s useless putting money behind a campaign no matter how carefully targeted it may be. Matching messaging to real-time inventory has never been more important. 

Be customer centric 

Consumers are on a mission more than ever during this demanding shopping season. They have specific objectives, price and a window they expect delivery. They also expect to find this information quickly. While companies focus on agile messaging in ads and over email, 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, social and connected TV will be critical to winning that purchase. 

Marketers often talk about satisfying consumer needs while in the same breath, delight in the commotion the scarcity value that some items provoke.

But there is a sense this year that brands should genuinely be rooting for the customer. There continues to be indirect issues outside retailers’ and manufacturers’ control. But by demonstrating a strong commitment to transparency, trustworthiness and helpfulness, brands can win Christmas. 

*Incubeta is a client of Bluestripe Communications, owned by Bluestripe Group, owner of NDA