Rising household debt, shifting consumer preferences and fierce competition have created a challenging environment for UK retailers. Although the ONS data is stronger, the September CBI Distributive Trades Survey showed the 5th consecutive month of falling retail sales while the YouGov/Cebr survey shows that consumer sentiment has fallen to a six-year low. The retailers’ response has been varied. Some have gone the more traditional route of offering promotions, while others have become innovative in their efforts to boost the in-store customer experience with DJs, photo booths etc.
The most frequent response has been to try to start Christmas earlier. Selfridges made headlines a few months ago with the announcement that its Christmas shop was open IN JULY! John Lewis opened its Christmas shop in mid-September. But Office for National Statistics (ONS) data suggest that rather than encouraging additional spending, this just spreads spending across a longer time frame. Even with more time to shop, there are only so many Christmas supplies one needs.
My experience from the US suggests a different approach – create more spending occasions. Clearly it would be difficult to recreate Thanksgiving which has a special American resonance. But what about doing more with Halloween?
In 2018, Halloween spending (costumes, food and sweets, decorations etc.) in the US reached $9bn (£7.4bn). This is eighteen times the estimated UK value of £419m.[2,3]
If the per capita Halloween spend in the UK matched that of the US, this would translate to a £1.1bn boost for retailers. This is very much an upper end estimate, as it is unlikely that UK shoppers would embrace the occasion as wholeheartedly, but capturing even a share of this boost would be a welcome relief for many struggling retailers, particularly as festive products can normally be highly profitable.
The same principle applies to other occasions, such as Valentine’s Day. While some will feel that these events have already become too commercial, there are also those that would gladly celebrate in a bigger way. Retailers could be more imaginative in finding ways of boosting sales. Starting Christmas in July will hardly do the trick – but promoting more spending occasions may just be the treat retailers have been craving …
Contact: Nina Skero; firstname.lastname@example.org; 07930695728