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Research finds that over-consumption is on the wane, but Christmas spirit still alive


By The Drum Team, Editorial

December 15, 2011 | 7 min read

A ‘Meaningful Brands’ study by MPG Media Contacts has revealed that the majority of consumers are looking to spend only what’s necessary on food and drink to limit waste this Christmas.

The study challenges traditional measures of brand value and questions the long-term viability of economies and companies built solely on greater levels of consumption and provides direction for brands trying to maintain their profitability in the face of a consumer slow down. Eva Powell, Strategy Director at MPG Media Contacts said, ‘For many retailers and market sectors, Christmas is a critical period for business growth, but with consumer confidence at an all time low and increased pressure on the cost of living we wanted to know whether people’s behaviour will fundamentally change over Christmas 2011. Are people moving away from the pressure to give and receive vast quantities of gifts? Are they planning the same level of indulgence as Christmas past? And what will the findings mean for brands that rely on this time of year to drive profits?’MPG Media Contacts asked a sample of 2,000 nationally representative respondents about their attitude to Christmas and what they planned to do differently this year versus last. The aim of the research is to understand whether there will be a new frugality driving gifting and consumption behaviour over Christmas 2011.Overall the research suggests that women are more mindful about overspending and will be opting to buy fewer gifts. Men, on the other hand, are proving to be less likely to be tightening the belt, which provides a huge opportunity for retailers. The majority of respondents will be looking to only spend what’s necessary on food and drink to limit the amount of waste this Christmas and people buying gifts on discount sites such as Groupon will be on the rise as consumers can buy more for the people they love - but for less. ‘Buying British’ is also high on the agenda this year, so while people might be buying less, they are still looking to support the economy through their choice of food and gifts they buy.The new Scrooge is female 45% of people plan to buy gifts for fewer people and 37% plan to buy fewer presents. Women are far more likely to be belt tightening with half of them planning to buy for fewer people and 41% buying fewer gifts over all.60% of the study's respondents agree that children get too many presents. Those of grandparent age are particularly critical of kids being spoilt at Christmas with 73% of 55-64’s and 65% of 65+ disapproving of the vast quantities kids now receive.However, while they may be belt-tightening, women place far more emotional investment into gifting, with 74% agreeing that it is the effort rather than the price that matters, compared to 58% of men.There is a strong and growing desire to limit waste at Christmas Traditional ideals of abundance are no longer relevant as the recession firmly impacts consumer behaviour. 57% of people are concerned about the amount of waste at Christmas and 64% of people are actively trying to buy only as much food, drink and household items as they need this year. Such opinions are growing year on year with 67% of people being more careful to minimise waste compared with Christmas 2010.Discount voucher sites will win over Christmas Websites such as Groupon, KGB, Achica and Wowcher should see good growth this year with 46% of respondents saying they will use them more than they did last Christmas. Their use will be more prevalent amongst women (54%) and 25-34s (56%). For consumers these sites offer a means to maintain the ‘volume’ of gifts given but at a vastly lower investment and do pose strong competition for many retailers.Buying British is ‘in’ at Christmas While people are certainly planning to buy less, they are making what they buy count, particularly in supporting the local economy. 47% of people care where their Christmas food comes from but this does not translate into Organic and Freerange where there is considerably less intent, which indicates an awareness of provenance as a means to stimulate the economy. This also rings true for gifting, where 39% of people feel it is important to support local producers or suppliers. Retailers, particularly food retailers should look to make a feature of UK suppliers where they can as a means to drive incremental value.Homespun gifts not on the rise Economic hardship has not resulted in more creativity in British households, with just 5% respondents strongly agreeing that they intent to make more of their presents and gifts themselves this year versus last. There is slightly more enthusiasm by a third of respondents for making decorations, particularly amongst 18-24 year-olds, of whom 44% plan to do so, possibly a reflection of living away from home for the first time. While homespun gift creativity has limited appeal, there is more enthusiasm for homespun cooking, with 58% of people preferring to make their own food rather than buy ready prepared. Retailers should renew their focus on targeting menWhile people are reigning in their spend this Christmas, it is a far more female trait. Traditionally retailers focus on women and housewives at this time of year, but men are far less likely to modify their spending behaviour as a result of the recession with 33% saying it has had no effect on their Christmas spending (compared to 23% of women). Men are far less concerned with minimising waste with just 36% planning to buy less food and drink this year compared to 46% of women. Men seek convenience and ease when it comes to gifting. They are less price sensitive (77% consider price important vs. 85% of women) and they invest far less emotion into gifting, just 62% claiming to get a great deal of joy out of the act of giving compared to 78% of women. They are also more likely to spend as little time as possible (31% vs 19%) and put less effort into thinking about what the recipient would like (68% vs. 84%)Men therefore offer greater spending potential and in putting in less effort in to the process they are also looking for easy solutions to their gifting challenges. There is therefore opportunity for brands in providing assistance through 'ready-made' solutions.Gifting taps into our core need to be a part of social groups Gifting represents much more than the exchange of presents. The survey found that giving presents directly benefits the emotional and social wellbeing of the giver; and the experience itself is important as 60% of people want to be with the recipient when they open it. 69% of people get a great deal of joy out of giving; rising to 78% of women, reflective of their greater emotional investment in the process. Gifting enhances relationships, with 57% saying it makes them feel closer to the recipient and 65% saying it reflects their relationship. Younger respondents are more inclined to feel it brings them closer and conversely older respondents less so. This demonstrates the importance of gift giving in bond creation and affirmation of relationships, less important to older people where relationships are already well established. The talk of an economic slowdown seems to be enhancing the amount of effort, care and consideration that goes into gifts. 81% of people believe it is the thought that counts and 76% of people put a lot of thought what the recipient would like. So while financial pressures may mean spending less it also fundamentally enhances emotional wellbeing through increased consideration and perception of effort. Generosity is not linked to the amount spent. This represents new commercial opportunities around developing more fulfilling experiences as gifts that promote social cohesion, rather than over-consumption of product.Summary Recent economic pressures have indeed impacted consumer behaviour with greater concerns over excess; but it has resulted in a more considered approach to consumption. This more considered spending will increasingly be directed to brands that enable greater positive outcomes for all concerned. Christmas offers the definitive opportunity for people to build and foster relationships and gifting creates bonds through emotional and social wellbeing. This ultimately means that brands looking to drive growth at Christmas need to focus on helping people achieve better social and emotional wellbeing that underpins the real meaning of Christmas.

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