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Brand marketing in a crisis: how to give consumers a very merry Christmas

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Opinium consider the impact that Covid will have on consumer behaviour at Christmas and in future

‘Twas now less three weeks before Christmas… And the uncertainty surrounding the festive period has not abated. The public still feel anxious (48%) over relaxed (40%) about 2021, however anxiety is down 7 percentage points from before the second lockdown (55% in September). Optimism (54%) is also up over the same period (46%). Meanwhile, people feel ready to jump head-first into 2021, with eagerness rising to 51% (41% in September).

Yet, with nearly a quarter of the UK population (24%) stating that their disposable incomes have, on average, decreased by 35% compared to this time last year, deliberation over purchasing remains high, with nearly half of all adults (48%) claiming that they are spending more time shopping around for the best deals, a 12% increase since mid-May.

Silent nights (and days) for retailers

But, the festive season is, as we know, a rule unto itself.

The problem for the beleaguered high street is that over half of all UK consumers (55%) still say that they are going to try and avoid shopping in person as much as possible over the Christmas (+2% since July), while the number who state that they are planning to buy more of their gifts online has increased by 6% to just over half (51%). The possibility of a series of very silent nights for bricks and mortar stores looks increasingly probable.

Intentions and reality are of course two very different things, but with 41% of the population planning on spending less on gifts this year, the anticipated boost in sales from the lifting of lockdown may fall short of expectations.

There are, however, some glimmers of hope. More than two in five consumers (45%) state that they are aiming to shop locally over the festive period. However, the number who say that this means visiting the high street in their local area has fallen to 44% (-11% from September) whilst those who say that they are planning to buy independent retailers in their area is also down to 45% (-8%). With the plight of small businesses gaining increasing coverage, local does not equate with location, but with supporting independent businesses through online purchases.

So no ho ho?

With less than three weeks to go, are consumers looking forward to the festive season? Well, yes and no. The number of consumers who feel that their lives have been heavily disrupted by the pandemic has increased once more to nearly three in five (59%). While this is up 8% from late September, it is still 11% less since its peak in the second week of the UK’s first lockdown.

The realisation that Christmas may be a very different affair this year, however, has not significantly impacted the importance the UK population continue to place on the holiday. While over a third of parents (34%) are worried that their children won’t enjoy Christmas as much this year, overall two in five (44%) Brits still state that Christmas will be more important than ever this year (-2% since July) and the three emotions felt most strongly by the public are excitement, hope and happiness.

Yet fear of infection, of harming loved ones, continues to play heavily on the minds of consumers with 51% (+8% since July) concerned about endangering the health of their friends and family over the holiday period. To combat this, nearly three in five (59%) state that they will have less friends round in the run up to Christmas and over half (53%) will have less people round than usual on Christmas day.

Rather than reveal our concerns to family and friends, however, over a third (36%) are going to be putting on a brave face and over a quarter (27%) are putting more effort into decorating their homes and planning on getting into the festive spirit earlier than usual.

As we edge closer to Christmas, however, it is not simply fear of physical harm, but the auxiliary consequences of Covid which are starting to impact future behaviour with just under one in three (32%) consumers stating that they are worried about their finances, and two in five (41%) aiming to spend less on gifts this year.

To find out more about what consumers are thinking, feeling and doing as we approach the start of 2021 and what this means for brands and businesses alike download the full report here or get in touch for a personalised presentation of the full findings.

Jack Tadman, senior research manager at Opinium.