Ignore the carollers. While those roving doorstep singers might be fixated on a period of 12 days this winter, every brand marketer knows that Christmas goes on much longer than that. In the world of grocery specifically, the focus is less on the big day itself, or even the week leading up to it: instead, Christmas is a months-long opportunity that requires careful management of a variety of different customer motivations and seasonal moments.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the key themes and milestones that will dominate the upcoming festive period, and how consumer-packaged goods (CPG) brands can use them as a way to win.
Christmas comes early as shoppers seek to spread the cost
There was a time when early Christmas shopping was reserved purely for the most well-organised of us. Today, with a cost of living crisis that has put consumer spending power under continued pressure, getting ahead of the game will be commonplace. Rather than leaving it to the last minute – and racking up a sizeable bill in the process – many shoppers will seek to spread the cost of Christmas across the preceding weeks and months.
Early shopping isn’t just a financial imperative, of course. While Christmas gives many people an opportunity to relax and unwind, it is also one of the most stressful moments on the annual calendar. With Christmas parties, school holidays, travel, and the arrival of friends and family to prepare for, even the best festive planners can find themselves taxed by these extraordinary circumstances.
For brands, on the other hand, these moments offer a range of new opportunities to engage – creating a series of themes that can be used as a media springboard. Some of the main ones include:
- Party planning
Whether for friends and family or as a neighbourhood get-together, the last few weeks of the year are a perfect time for people to catch up over a few drinks. While that might appeal mainly to makers of beers, wines, and spirits (BWS), there’s plenty of mindshare to be gained by the likes of snacking, fresh, and frozen brands too.
- Christmas gifting
It’s not all about grand gestures; the spirit of generosity that goes hand-in-hand with Christmas provides opportunities for a wide range of CPG brands. From stocking fillers and party presents, through to little treats for the furry animals in our lives, gifting touches on a number of different categories.
- Dinner on the big day
The average cost for a Christmas dinner in the UK – based on pricing data from seven different retailers – was almost £26 in 2022. Notably, that cost excludes starters, desserts, drinks, or any other celebratory additions, hinting at the potential that awaits those brands that can get their goods on the table.
It’s not all done and dusted once December 25th starts winding down. There’s also the post-Christmas lull to think about, a time when many households focus on using up the food that they’ve already got. A little inspiration can go a long way in those in-between days.
As well as providing brands with fertile ground from a messaging perspective, the themes above have a similarly profound impact on shopper behaviours, too. In the run up to Christmas, customers tend to be much more open-minded about what they buy and when. For instance:
- 75% of shoppers say that they look out for promotions on items included in Christmas event lines.
- 72% say that they’re tempted to spend more on their groceries than they normally would at this time of year.
- 71% of customers often buy products that they wouldn’t normally.
- And 45% say that they take advantage of Christmas offers in order to stock up on products they’ll use later in the year.
Keeping up with customers as they get into the rhythm of Christmas
Knowing what shoppers are focusing on and when can be helpful when making any last-minute adjustments to your media campaigns. Naturally, specific actions and behaviours can vary, but shoppers do tend to follow a certain rhythm in the run up to Christmas.
|5-6 Weeks Out
|4 Weeks Out
|3 Weeks Out
|2 Weeks Out
|1 Week Out
|Customers start thinking about Christmas in earnest, focusing mainly on BWS and gift sets.
|With Black Friday offers live, shopper attention turns to items like electronics, toys, and home products.
|The focus shifts to getting ahead, specifically store cupboard goods that can be put away until Christmas.
|With party season now in full swing, value for money in sharing, multipack, and drinks offers is the priority.
|As the school term comes to an end, this tends to be a big week for Christmas cooking, baking, and eating.
|Christmas crunch means a focus on fresh food, last-minute gifts, and starters, sides, and festive breakfasts.
The calendar isn’t the only useful targeting mechanism when it comes to Christmas, either. Shoppers tend to adopt different personas based on what their plans are, allowing brands to be hyper-focused in their activations. Some of the most commonly held roles include:
- Attendees, who still want to do their bit to contribute to the festive spirit, even if they’re not hosting themselves.
- New hosts, who are having people round for Christmas for the first time, and need things to be as easy as can be.
- Premium hosts, who are planning to make Christmas bigger and better than ever – and are on the lookout for inspiration as a result.
- Cost-conscious hosts, who are keen to celebrate with their family, but need to minimise the expense of doing so.
Four final tips for a cracking Christmas
Whatever role your product plays at Christmas, whichever audience it is most relevant to, and whenever it makes most sense to engage with shoppers, these final tips should help to ensure that you enjoy a winning winter.
Customers will start buying early this year, seeking to spread the cost. Maximise your sales opportunity by timing your media activity to their shopping behaviour.
React to the rhythm
Context is important; work out the times, places, and moments that will see your message resonating to best effect, and ensure they’re at the heart of your plans.
Christmas shopping can be stressful, particularly when finances are under pressure. Make things easy and deliver value with targeted money-saving deals.
Don’t forget that many customers are now omnichannel shoppers; ensure that your communications are clear and consistent across both online and in-store media.
 All data sourced from IGD Research, 2023
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