Retail experts are calling on the public to start their Christmas shopping earlier than normal this year to help spread demand during the peak shopping season.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has announced a new national campaign urging the public to get cracking on the present buying to help reduce last-minute demand for items in the final weeks of November and December.
Though we might not usually think about starting our Christmas shopping in October, this year our festive plans have been somewhat thrown into turmoil thanks to changes in restrictions about the number of people that can attend social gatherings, although it is not yet known what restrictions will be in place in December.
“Whilst celebrations will no doubt be a little different this year, we know customers want to keep Christmas special,” explains Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC.
“That’s why we’re encouraging people to shop early and prevent the last minute rush so their fellow customers and all the store colleagues, warehouse workers and delivery drivers working behind the scenes, have the space they need to stay safe and well.”
The BRC stated out that retailers have been strengthening their supply chains since March, putting in place additional safety and hygiene measures across their stores and online operations.
“BRC’s September sales figures show signs some customers have already started a little earlier than usual, as spreading your Christmas shopping has many benefits in today’s climate - from safety to managing finances,” added Dickinson.
“However, we want more people to embrace the true Christmas spirit, think of others and ‘Shop Early, Start Wrapping’ and most of all Enjoy Christmas – however they are celebrating.”
The campaign launch comes as Oxford Street announced it would be switching on its Christmas lights earlier this year, on Monday 2 November, according to the Retail Gazette.
The date is about three weeks earlier than in 2019, when the lights were turned on from 21 November.
According to Sabrina Benjamin, retail expert and founder of booking tool Q Manager, coronavirus and the resultant impact on sales has meant retailers are more keen than ever to encourage shoppers to get cracking on their Christmas shopping.
“Every year consumers fall trap to the last minute Christmas rush, however things have changed,” she explained. “Due to the impacts of COVID-19, the customers’ ability to ‘get up and go’ is now limited by many factors beyond their control.”
Benjamin sites the rule of six or the possibility of being asked to self-isolate for a period of time, as just a couple of those uncontrollable factors.
Watch: Hamley’s top picks for Christmas 2020.
“Additionally in London, there have been many road closures as a direct result of the pandemic creating further restrictions to be mobile/travel,” Benjamin added.
“These changes are driving a huge increase in online shopping. Many retailers seeing double figure increases. As this was an unforeseen change, many retailers do not have the additional warehouse and fleet capacity to manage the additional sales volume over the traditional Christmas period.
“Standing up new warehouse space is a lengthy and expensive process. In many cases it would be hard to justify such cost for one quarter of the year.”
The next option, she said, is to manage the flow of sales volume.
“By starting Christmas early, retailers have the opportunity to satisfy a percentage of their traditional Christmas sales earlier (manage the same volume over a longer period of time),” she explained.
This reduces the risk of bottlenecks within the supply chain, which could cause delays to deliveries meaning that customers would’t receive their products in time for Christmas.
“Brand damage in addition to the financial challenges seen this year is something every retailer should avoid,” she continued.
Additionally, many websites cannot manage high volumes of traffic.
“Should the high-street traffic move online during the traditional Christmas sales period, it wouldn't be a surprise to see many sites crash, again leading to missed sales and unsatisfied customers,” said Benjamin.
But starting stocking up on Christmas presents early doesn’t just benefit retailers.
Lee Lucas, principal and CEO of the Fashion Retail Academy, says shoppers are likely to accept the invitation to begin filling their stockings sooner rather than later because months of social and travel restrictions have left them desperate for some Christmas cheer.
“It is beneficial for shoppers to start buying gifts early, as it means purchases can be spread out over a longer period, spreading out the cost,” he said.
“It will also make social distancing easier. If shoppers spread out their Christmas shopping over the next nine weeks, it will avoid massive crowds gathering on high streets and shopping centres in December.
“Additionally, it helps to prevent a last-minute rush and panic buying which can easily occur when shopping is left until the week before Christmas.”