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What the retail graphs of Christmas past reveal about the future

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Every year, Christmas seems to arrive earlier and 2017 is going to be no exception. There are two things certain in the UK retail market as we head towards the festive season: more shoppers will choose to shop online and that ecommerce will continue to see healthy retail growth.

The UK has Europe’s most dynamic ecommerce market, and according to IMRG, Christmas 2016 registered sales of $25b between November 13 and December 25, with growth driven by purchase on smartphones, which was up 47% year over year in December. What’s more, they’re predicting a 14% increase this year!

With record sales expected, what can retailers learn by analysing the graphs of Christmas past?

Whether it is the well-organised who plan in advance, the last-minute gift grabber or the bargain hunter in the post-Christmas period, there is an opportunity for all ecommerce retailers to ensure they don’t miss out on the cheer of festive sales.

Expect the unexpected (well before December)...

Shoppers start researching big ticket items early and we saw the largest converted cart sizes last year well before Black Friday, in early November. While they may convert in November, they are actually shopping before Halloween.

Brands are wise to this and a look at pre-Black Friday sales from last year shows that by mid-November, the spending is well underway! As retailers look to maximise on the last quarter of the year, surprise sales are less, well, surprising! In a bid to engage with eager shoppers as early as possible, supermarket ASDA announced early discounts on the 18th of November causing an unexpected spike in shopping.

This caught some merchants and brands off-guard. The volume of activity generated was so great that it flooded the entire online marketplace with eager shoppers. If there’s one lesson for brands here it’s that relying the traditional festive spikes alone won’t be enough this year and that they should be prepared for surprise sale announcements and ready to jump on shopping spikes.

Source: Criteo internal data 2016

Plan for the peaks…

Black Friday, and its digital cousin, Cyber Monday, continue to grow in importance. In 2016, we saw Black Friday sales rise 10% over the previous year. The American import has redefined the sales period and, perhaps unsurprisingly, is now the biggest day in ecommerce in the UK, overtaking Boxing Day.

With 39% of shoppers expecting to get their Christmas shopping started four to six weeks in advance of Christmas, with a further 29% saying they plan to purchase presents more than six weeks in advance (Criteo Retail Week Holiday Trends 2016). This Friday to Monday period in late November can feel like make or break for many retailers.

Away from these huge peaks, Mondays proved the most popular shopping day with Criteo data showing sales spikes of up to 15% in the run up to Christmas. With weekends spent seeing family and friends before the big day, Monday is likely to be the day most are able to focus on presents.

With these dates at the centre of their strategies, retailers won’t go too far wrong this coming yuletide.

Source: Criteo internal data 2016

Remember, it’s never too late!

With brands increasingly able to offer shorter delivery windows, the last minute Christmas shopper is able to avoid any hectic dashes to the high street and rely on online stores to spare any blushes come Christmas Day. This has given rise to another significant wave of ecommerce activity in the two weeks before the big day.

Last year, ecommerce activity spiked dramatically on the Thursday and Friday before Christmas with shoppers increasingly confident in retailers’ ability to fulfill last minute orders.

While historically, retailers might have been tempted to reduce online marketing spend closer to Christmas, that’s no longer the case. Front loading in this way is a sure fire means of missing out on the Johnny-Come-Latelys (we all know one!)

Source: Criteo internal data 2016

So there you have it. Everything the modern marketer needs to know about Christmas past to get the present all wrapped up for a profitable future.

But remember, one of the biggest trends of the last few years which isn’t going anywhere fast is the growth of mobile shopping. Last year, Criteo’s data revealed that Christmas Day is the busiest mobile shopping day of the year. Gone are times when families focus on spending time with each other, and enjoy their new gifts, instead shoppers are back on their phones hunting for the next bargain. Nearly two thirds (62%) of online purchases made on Christmas Day are carried out using a smartphone. The convenience of being able to buy on-the-go means that retailers should be focusing on their mobile commerce strategy more than ever, even on Christmas day itself.

Merry (almost) Christmas!

John Gillan is UK and Northern Europe managing director of Criteo