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‘Tis the season to spend – what does this mean for the high street?

Birmingham Business School

The Christmas season is always anticipated by retailers and customers alike. For retailers the season is the “golden quarter” when maximum profits are expected. For customers, Christmas is the time to exchange gifts and so necessitates online or store-based shopping for loved ones. With these reasons combined, Christmas sales are highly anticipated by retailers. However, the growth in sales has also caused the online market to increase year on year, in 2018 online sales increased by 10.1%.

Despite online competition, Diane Wehrle, Insights Director at Springboard points out, the busiest trading day is expected to be on the 21st December with a predicted footfall 3 days after Christmas, retailers are expected to be exceptionally busy. For busy present buying commuters, parents and bargain hunters – towns, high streets and stores are still bustling during this time of year.

The Message behind the Picture

So, how do retailers achieve footfall in the face of online competition? Firstly, there are the much-awaited Christmas advertisements that evoke emotional responses from customers. The Christmas adverts are always anticipated as they launch the Christmas shopping season and have become a Christmas tradition themselves. They are used by the retailers to create emotions such as happiness, nostalgia, warmth and familiarity. This is important because many retailers sell similar products and therefore, it is difficult to compete on product purchase alone. Rather, retailers need to create an emotional connection with their customers, so that customers choose them as opposed to their competitors. This emotional connection is unique to the retailer and creates a competitive advantage.

Millions are spent by retailers on creating the Christmas advert of the year. A great example of this is the highly anticipated John Lewis’ Christmas advert, this year in collaboration with Waitrose.  Another, is Aldi’s advert which once again sees the return of Kevin the Carrot (#savekevin) and references A Christmas Carol and The Greatest Showman. Currently, the John Lewis and Waitrose advert with Elgar the Dragon has had 9,295,305 views on YouTube. With customers able to emotionally connect to Edgar the Dragon and Kevin the Carrot, these retailers become memorable, thus becoming the top choice for customers to carry out their Christmas shopping. Such emotional appealing adverts, enable an immediate connection with the customer by cutting through the sheer volume of  media that customers will receive at Christmas time. Therefore, an impressionable advert will divert customers and encourage them to shop at that particular store.

It could be said Christmas adverts also serve to increase online sales however, in the case of Aldi, there is no online alternative, #savekevin is very much about brand engagement, showcasing the product range and ensuring that customers choose Aldi over any other supermarket. Both John Lewis and Aldi have relatable characters in common, so not only will customers go to the store to buy their Christmas purchases they will also go instore to purchase a cuddle carrot or dragon. For John Lewis the advert has a dual impact by not only offering a relatable character and therefore, unique brand recognition but driving in-store visits by offering the opportunity to meet and have a selfie with Excitable Edgar.

Santa Claus is coming to Town

At this time of year, in particular, town centres and high streets are creating exciting experiences to encourage customers to come into town rather than stay at home which then drives retail trade. Across the country towns and cities are hosting outdoor film screenings, pop up bars, meet Santa events and Christmas light shows. Birmingham has the largest German Christmas market outside Germany/ Austria, that runs for 6 weeks and attracts approximately 5.5 million visitors. There is also an outside ice rink enabling people to, “experience the magic of ice skating outdoors in the heart of Birmingham, right next to the big wheel”, encouraging customers to get together, experience fun and get into the Christmas spirit.

At Christmas, retailers themselves offer numerous experiences to encourage customers to come into store for example, John Lewis offers Santa letter writing and Christmas table dressing events. Via their MyJohnLewis loyalty card they are offering invitation only Christmas celebration events where selected customers are invited to a festive event for drinks, nibbles and of course, shopping. At the Oxford Street event, Nadiya Hussain was on hand to help customers prepare for Christmas with cooking demonstrations, they were also given exclusive access to the rooftop Winter Carnival.

All these events and experiences can’t be carried out online and enhance our Christmas emotions, adding excitement and interest at this busy time of the year. Although, this year the Christmas season has not started off well, with October retail sales lower than expected the drive towards customer experiences is still likely to engage and enchant customers, especially those who leave present buying until the last minute! Sometimes only the high street will do.

Some might say that It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!

Read more from the Birmingham Business School blog here.