Retailers braced for festive shopping frenzy

The closure of non-essential retail during the second lockdown will see twice as many consumers surge on to the High Street in a ‘three-week festive shopping frenzy’ in December, the latest ShopperTrak data from Sensormatic Solutions, reveals.

Original research of over 1,000 UK shoppers by Sensormatic revealed that 45% of consumers had already started Christmas shopping by the start of November, before the second lockdown restrictions came into place.  A further 27%, who were planning to start gift buying this month in a bid to get ahead and avoid the December rush, had their plans thwarted by the new national restrictions, which sees non-essential retail closed until 3rd December.

Before the four-week November lockdown was announced, just 16% of UK consumers said they would leave Christmas shopping to the last minute in December.  However, Sensormatic’s research suggests, twice as many shoppers will now be forced to hit the High Street in December’s three week window between retail re-opening and Christmas Day.

This will create a ‘three-week festive shopping frenzy’, prompted by fears online fulfilment networks and warehouses will become overwhelmed, causing the delays to deliveries as seen in the first lockdown, and risking gifts not arriving in time for the Big Day.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) had already started to urge consumers to shop early in October, amid warnings that the usual Christmas rush could pose health and safety risks for shoppers, store colleagues, warehouse workers and delivery drivers and is now warning that any extensions to lockdown past 3rd December would be ‘catastrophic’ for non-essential retail who, despite investment in online and click-and-collect, will be unable to make up for lost ground.

“With the lockdown shutting non-essential retail for all but click-and-collect in November, there will be increasing pressures on the store come December.  Retailers face a difficult balancing act between managing pent-up demand and compressed Christmas shopping footfall through the store and driving sales, all while keeping shoppers and colleagues safe.”

Andy Sumpter, Sensormatic’s retail consultant for EMEA

Other shoppers not respecting social distancing topped the concerns for 47% of UK consumers when considering Christmas shopping in-store, Sensormatic’s research showed.

However, by the same token, while consumers wanted the 2-meter rule to be upheld, 43% said long queues caused by social distancing, magnified by the three-week window to shop in December, would put them off shopping in-store during the festive period.  Yet, despite these concerns, 54% of UK shoppers still plan to shop in-store over Christmas, while just 18% of consumers say they will do all of their festive shopping online.

“This year, on the whole, we expect to see customers shopping less frequently in-store but with more purpose, making each visit even more valuable to the retailer,” Sumpter continued. “While visits are fewer, the in-store conversion rates and baskets sizes are higher, so this dynamic of risk and reward places much more pressure on getting the in-store experience right in order to drive peak performance.  And this means retailers will need to hard-bake ‘SafeX’ (safe experiences) – rather than traditional CX (customer experience) – into in-store Christmas shopping journeys.”

“By leveraging insight from shopper traffic trends, retailers can optimise staff scheduling and inventory fulfilment, so they can seize the sales opportunities presented by peak trading footfall. This means they can also helps retailers identify the best times for staff to walk the floor and serve customers during peak time, whilst also undertaking essential tasks, like restocking, regular hygiene measures or managing click and collect orders when the store is less busy,” he concluded.

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