How UK consumers shop at Christmas - and how to target them

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

The festive period is the most important time of the year for retailers, and one of the best ways to harness it is to better understand retail audiences and their customer journeys, both on and offline.

UK consumers are a diverse lot, but there are plenty of ways you can get your business in front of the right people. All you need to do is understand who your customers are, capture the correct data, and then separate the audiences that matter out from the rest. In doing so, you can target audiences earlier and make sense of the chaotic Christmas retail period when it finally arrives.

Using YouGov profiling data and Epiphany’s insight, we’ve uncovered four personas – revealing four types of UK Christmas shopper – and explored how retail brands can best target them (N.B. The four personas are not representative of all UK shopping behaviour, we have simply picked out four examples).

Persona 1: Savvy Claus

This is the kind of person who’s already decorated their Christmas tree by November 2 and shudder at the thought of doing any of their Christmas shopping in December. Instead of last-minute shopping, they prefer to spend the first six months of the year planning what they’d like to buy their friends and family. The other six, meanwhile, are dedicated to buying and wrapping those presents!

This persona mainly purchases online, they’re comfortable shopping from a mobile device, and tend to be active on social media.

Key persona stats:

  • Low to medium spend
  • Purchase gifts throughout the year
  • Mainly purchase online on a desktop

As this kind of shopper doesn’t leave anything to chance when it comes to Christmas, brands must have an ‘always on’ approach to targeting them. By summer, Savvy Claus has already started to compile gift ideas via search and social, but they can still be targeted by keeping a low level of Christmas keyword PPC bidding live long before Christmas.

Audience lists can then be built from these clicks to re-engage within the months leading up to the festive period.

Customers who love planning also need to be engaged with on their terms. If they use Pinterest, for example, don’t forget to make the most of the wide array of Pinterest targeting options available to engage and reach people interacting with Christmas-themed content.

Keep on-site Christmas content live and up to date to support organic presence, and add viewers of this content to audience lists created earlier in the year. Your audience lists can then be used to serve contextual display ads, capturing consumers who pre-plan their Christmas, while being non-intrusive to customers who shop later on in the year.

Product-focused display ads should then be remarketed during the pre-Christmas shopping holidays, but stopped after Cyber Monday – our organised consumer will be wrapping presents, not buying them, this late in the year.

Persona 2: The S(E)lfish Shopper

This person doesn’t pay a lot of attention to Christmas shopping. They don’t spend a fortune, but they don’t go out of their way to get the perfect present at the perfect price either. The S(E)lfish Shopper will pick up gifts impulsively, with a ‘that’ll do’ mentality.

This persona likes to purchase presents in Black Friday sales, mostly use mobile devices, and want an experience that’s easy and efficient.

Key persona stats:

  • Intends on low spend, but actually spends medium – high
  • Purchase mid to late December, sometimes even after Christmas
  • Tend to be young males

Young and with only a small list of people to buy for, this persona could best be summed up with the words ‘that’ll do’. When this consumer does make a purchase, it’s often low consideration and usually on Black Friday and/or Cyber Monday.

While you shouldn’t actively plan to reach this not-so-valuable customer, they are quite easy to convert, especially using paid social with sales messaging around Black Friday. A good mobile experience can also boost conversions – commuter audiences often suffer from patchy signal!

After Black Friday, this ego-oriented audience can be retargeted across social channels like Instagram, using carousels of top-selling products. This way, you show off the best products available in an easy-to-browse way, enabling the S(E)lfish Shopper to get their hands on a great present with minimum effort. Just make sure to cap the frequency of retargeting – these shoppers aren’t known for their brand loyalty!

Persona 3: Festive Fanatic

The Festive Fanatic puts a lot of effort into Christmas gifts and enjoys the overall festive shopping experience. They tend to start planning early in the year and are generally finished before the start of December (with exceptions being those nice-to-haves, additional gifts). Festive Fanatics like to get peer approval on gift ideas from friends and loved ones, and adore creating gift lists.

Key persona stats:

  • High spend
  • Likes to purchase in-store
  • Purchase gifts throughout the year with most presents bought before December

At Christmas, it’s safe to say mums know best – particularly when they’ve spent the last four months carefully researching and looking for social proof points on what they’re planning to get family and friends.

Make sure you reach this consumer early, engaging and connecting them with your brand with micro-conversions like email sign-ups. Share Christmas product content with them early and make sure it’s shareable to harness the ‘would this be good for this person?’ effect.

Be aware that online conversions may be slow at first, as gift lists must be created before the hustle and bustle of high-street Christmas shopping.

While the Festive Fanatic probably won’t be queuing from sunrise on Black Friday, you can still reach them during the sales by implementing sequential advertising. Use search, display and paid social channels to display generic ad messaging, then re-engage them with more specific, product-led ads based on what they’ve looked at previously before the sales take place.

On sale day, stop them scrolling by pushing discount-focused messaging on selected products.

As the Christmas shopping period enters its final weeks, remember to update shopping feed ads regularly with a focus on price comparison. If you use aggregate sites, make sure those listings are relevant and in date too!

And, when Christmas is almost here, generate buzz around ‘nice-to-have’ products through promo-led cross-selling. This way, you’ll become their retailer of choice for those last-minute stocking-fillers.

Persona 4: Saint Nick of Time

We all know a last-minute shopper. The ‘yes, I’ll get it sorted’ Dad, or that one person who’s been told what they need to buy for Christmas months ago, but just hasn’t quite got around to it yet. While next-day delivery and late night opening hours are their saviours, you can help them too.

Key persona stats:

  • Generally male, aged 40-54
  • Tend to buy gifts the week before Christmas, or Christmas Eve
  • Mainly purchase offline

Forget bargains and brand identity, this shopper needs presents, right now. Retarget this consumer with campaigns based on last-minute intent, show them products they’ve previously expressed interest in and carry the message that there really is still time!

If you can fulfill next-day delivery and offer click and collect at locations with late opening hours, capture their intent by bidding on Christmas gift keywords right up to Christmas Eve. Focus on delivery capabilities in ad copy messaging and provide location extensions.

Even if your delivery date has passed, all of this will still have a major impact on offline purchases. Keep organic map listings and info on Christmas opening times up to date – our Saint Nick of Time shopper will definitely appreciate being told when and where to go as they shop through the eleventh hour.

While the Christmas period has pretty much passed, there are still ongoing cross-sell opportunities available. It’s still worth tying any conversions you get back to marketing activity to better attribute the value of capturing these last-minute consumers.

Arianne Donoghue is paid media development manager at Epiphany.

Search The Drum Jobs

Explore the best jobs in Marketing and Media industries
View all open jobs

Arianne Donoghue

Arianne Donoghue is paid media development manager at Epiphany

All by Arianne