Are consumers shopping earlier or later in the festive season?

We are now well into the swing of the Christmas shopping season and consumers have been hitting the high street and online stores in their millions to buy gifts for their families and loved ones.

We’ve already seen online retail records broken with UK Internet users making 115 million visits to retail websites on Cyber Monday (2 December 2013) and unprecedented November shopping activity on Black Friday (29 November 2013) which lays down a very positive marker for another Christmas of growth for online retail.

But is this simply a reflection of people getting more organised and doing their Christmas shopping earlier in the season or is it merely the start of bigger and better things to come?


Will the real Cyber Monday please stand up?

Today (Monday 9 December) will be an important indicator which will help to predict what happens over the rest of the Christmas shopping period and could well be an important turning point in online shopping behaviour in the UK. Historically, the first Monday of December (known as Cyber Monday) has always been the biggest pre-Christmas peak in online shopping. If you look at this chart from last year you can see the two clear peaks in online activity at Cyber Monday (pre-Christmas) and Boxing Day (post-Christmas).

Cyber Monday and Boxing Day 2012

Cyber Monday 2013 was the single biggest retail day online that the UK has ever witnessed. However, Monday 9 December could be even bigger, creating a new peak in pre-Christmas shopping and a new trend in shopping behaviour – the dawn of a new Cyber “Middle” Monday.



Consumers are leaving their shopping later

For the last five years, the second Monday of December has never managed to eclipse the first Monday of December in terms of retail visits online – so what makes this year potentially different?

Well a couple of factors come into play. Firstly, the major reason why Cyber Monday exists at all   is because shoppers traditionally needed to allow plenty of time for retailers to deliver gifts before Christmas Eve. As retailers have got better at guaranteeing delivery dates later and later into the festive season the imperative to shop early has diminished.

Secondly, as shoppers have become more savvy, they know that retailers will be forced to drop prices if sales volumes are low. This happened last year and resulted in many retailers starting their Boxing Day sales on Christmas Eve, which in turn led to a flurry of last minute shopping activity. Consumers know if they hold their nerve, they can get gifts cheaper and can afford to wait longer before doing their Christmas shopping online.

Thirdly, in the last week daily visits to retail sites have been outperforming the previous week’s figures by 2 per cent, when last year they were falling. This suggests sustained shopping activity after Cyber Monday that could make 9 December even bigger than last Monday.


But what about the early shopping boom?

Having said that, early Christmas shopping has been boosted by the unexpected success of Black Friday. In previous  years Black Friday has been a purely a US phenomenon but this year Black Friday came to the UK in a big way with a 19 per cent increase in visits to retail websites compared to Black Friday 2012. One in every 550 searches contained the words ‘black friday’ in the week ending 30 November 2013.

Much as with Halloween, US culture is seeping across the pond and starting to have an influence on UK Christmas shopping habits. With 113 million UK Internet visits going to retail sites on Black Friday alone and record breaking visit numbers on Cyber Monday this represents a lot of early shopping activity online this Christmas.


So are consumers shopping earlier or later in the festive season?

Back to the title of this blog – are we seeing a shift in consumer behaviour and are people shopping earlier or later over the Christmas period? The truth is, right now it is too early to tell. Lots will depend on the last minute flurries of shopping in the last week before Christmas and the weather is still a random but massively influential factor in the overall shopping trends.

We have been promised a bitterly cold winter this year which has yet to materialise, but could still disrupt shopping sprees if we get heavy snow in the next two weeks. However, all eyes should be on Monday 9 December as an early barometer of changing shopping habits. If it eclipses Cyber Monday figures then the UK will enter a new cycle of Christmas shopping trends,  – and marketers will need to start considering new campaign planning tactics for next year.