Nicholas Carroll
Associate Director - Retail, Nicholas Carroll has a particular flare for the grocery industry but analyses and writes in-depth reports on a range of UK and European retail markets.

After last year’s ‘cancelled Christmas’, many consumers will be looking forward to a return to more normal festive celebrations. However, with the UK facing a fuel crisis, as well as reports of turkey being off the menu and potential gift shortages because of energy rationing in China, what kind of Christmas are UK shoppers preparing for this year?  

In 2020, a quarter of shoppers had started their Christmas shopping in September or earlier – the highest number we have recorded in our time tracking Christmas shopping habits.

There was an assumption that we would see some snap back to pre-pandemic habits in 2021, however, the news of fuel, product and staff shortages will have created some uncertainty for shoppers. In fact, data from Mintel’s COVID-19 Tracker shows that less than one in five consumers between 16-27 September 2021 reported they were struggling to buy some products due to stock shortages.

The recent fuel crisis will have created uncertainty for shoppers

This uncertainty likely means earlier purchasing will be a feature of the coming Christmas period once more, with online searches currently tracking in line with 2020. Retailers will of course be working round the clock to alleviate issues, but the message so far from retailers has been clear: pre-warning customers of a worst-case scenario – allowing them to plan earlier and to ease pressure on logistics from a surge of late demand.

What earlier purchasing means on a category-by-category basis will be very different. In food later purchasing is natural, although like last year we may see categories such as frozen and ambient perform strongly as customers look to prepare for an eventuality of fresh shortages or restriction changes.

Christmas gift buying is likely to be brought forward

In non-foods, gifting is more likely to be brought forward – particularly on goods either purchased from or imported from outside of the UK, with delays also seen in 2020 which will have forewarned many shoppers. This may be tempered slightly by the current pressure on many households’ finances, with the temptation being to wait until November and the inevitable Black Friday promotions.