A look at Christmas shopping around the world

The festive period is always crucial for retailers but, if anything, it will be even more so this year as businesses look to bounce back from tepid consumer spending. So, what can businesses do to both shape and take advantage of consumers’ spending patterns in different markets?

This Christmas, British consumers are once again expected to reject the drudgery of the cost-of-living crisis by splurging on gifts and food, spending an average of £472 per household on Christmas presents, according to Sensormatic Research. Unsurprisingly, retailers will be keen to make the most of this, using carefully timed promotions such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday to whip shoppers into a spending frenzy.

We may think this is a hallmark of the season in all markets where Christmas is celebrated, but that’s not necessarily the case. For instance, it’s worth remembering that British shopping habits have changed significantly in recent years; Black Friday, after all, is a US import and has been fuelled by British consumers’ gradual embrace of online shopping.

So, what’s the state of Britain’s Christmas shopping habits in 2023? And how does that compare with the rest of the world? Can retailers position themselves to take strategic advantage of these spending patterns?

From this, it’s clear that Britain’s Christmas shopping habits sit somewhere between those in the US and Europe. Whereas spending patterns in the US are influenced by the proximity of Thanksgiving and well-established Black Friday promotions, in Europe the traditional pre- and post-Christmas shopping period still dominates, typified by Britain’s Boxing Day sales and the legally defined soldes d’hiver period in France.

Of course, it’s not just about bagging a bargain at Black Friday or panic buying on Christmas Eve. In fact, between a fifth and a quarter of shoppers start thinking about Christmas as early as August. Again, Brits sit somewhere between their American and European counterparts here, with November – the most common month for starting Christmas shopping – being favoured by 32% of Americans, 31% of Brits and 26% of Europeans.

And if the trend is for Britain to increasingly lean towards US shopping patterns, it seems likely that over time more Brits will gradually shift their Christmas shopping earlier in the year, as retailers look to spread the benefits of the Christmas boom over a longer timeframe.

One way in which British shoppers are holding out in favour of traditional shopping habits is in a dogged preference for in-person shopping. Even in 2020, a year disrupted by Covid lockdowns, physical retail outperformed online shopping over the Christmas period as a whole.

This preference for in-person shopping likely also explains why the Black Friday promotions, although an important driver of revenue for retailers, remains a relatively small contributor to overall Christmas sales.

Whether retailers can gradually alter that pattern over time will go some way towards determining the success of their entire Christmas sales drives.