Selfridges opened its Christmas shop a full 137 days before the big day, the first Christmas inspired sandwiches went on sales in Boots and M&S before Halloween and the past week has already seen most of the major festive TV ads air.
But is there any evidence to show whether this is a good or a bad tactic to get consumers shopping?
A recent poll from Attest Market and Brand Intelligence showed 48% of people are planning to purchase Christmas gifts in the first two weeks of December, with smaller percentages either having done it all already or planning to leave it to the last minute. In case you’re wondering, ‘last minute’ to 7% of people means Christmas eve.
All of this suggests that July might be a little premature for purchasing Christmas baubles, particularly given our propensity to be more focused on the present. Google even has a microsite to educate and inform brands on how to capitalise on ‘in the moment’ purchasing and decision making, e.g. micro-moments.
Kit Yarrow identifies this mentality as “IWWIWWIWI (I want what I want when I want it)” in her book, ‘Decoding the New Consumer Mind’. Delayed gratification is a thing of the past, so it stands to reason that purchasing Christmas goodies in July in the expectation of waiting five months to enjoy them, is not really going to wash for the vast majority of people.
Unless of course the 'scarcity effect' comes into play; if consumers believed that certain items in the Selfridges Christmas shop were only available for a limited amount of time, their appeal increases, as does the FOMO phenomenon. If they didn’t purchase then, they might not be available by the time they open door one of their advent calendar.
Interestingly there is evidence that a pre-Christmas spending season is emerging… but of people buying early presents for themselves. Advent calendars in part are fueling this trend, with beauty products, drinks, Lego and luxury goods all getting in on the advent action, and a build-up to Christmas that is as much about treating oneself, as treating others.
Harvey Nichols' award-winning ads from 2013 tapped into this trend with the their ‘I spent it all on myself’ Christmas campaign. And it turns out there are psychological – as well as financial – benefits to starting your festive shopping a little early (whether it’s one for you, one for them, or entirely altruistic)!
A US study showed people make better decisions when they are not in a rush. So the more time you have to consider your gifting options in advance of making a purchase, the better. This is largely what fuels the onslaught of festive ads in November, though ironically brands potentially stand to do better out of last-minute disorganised shoppers. As negative emotions – stress, frustration, irritation at never-ending queues – can lead to increased spending (if not always satisfaction with the final purchase)!
With Christmas the prime battleground for businesses to square up and pile on the pounds (to their bottom-line, rather than waistline in this case), gaining an edge over the competition is key. Last year’s John Lewis’s advert #Bouncebounce, starring Buster The Boxer, generated an incredible 53.5m views across social channels in its first week alone, according to John Lewis Partnership chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield. It will be interesting to see how the current crop of Christmas ads fare, in driving sales, not just views, given forecasts are not looking too rosy for high street retailers.
But Christmas miracles can still happen, and it’s worth taking heart in the fact that Amazon’s Prime day in July – NOT its Black Friday Christmas focused promotion of 2016 – was its biggest money spinner of the past 12 months, perhaps suggesting that standing apart from the crowd can sometimes garner more interest than all competing for the same share of wallet at exactly the same time.
Collider’s own recent research has indicated that the whole purchase experience is as important – and for some audiences more important – than whether products are competitively different. Ensuring that your audiences’ experience of searching for inspiration, discovering new ideas, and purchasing gifts over the coming weeks is as positive as possible will mean investing in the build up to Christmas hopefully pays off – for everyone.
Charlotte Bunyan is head of strategy at Collider