What have we learnt about Finance from Christmas 2018?

Christmas is an expensive time. It is estimated that the average family spends £800 on festivities every year. Many even risk getting into a serious debt problem to enjoy the Season. While this is extremely stressful for many people, all this spending results in a lot of interesting data that reveals a lot about our priorities, our spending habits, stable investing opportunities, best sales practice, and, even, the economy.

Continued Online Dominance

Unsurprisingly, as in previous years, more people turned to ordering online to source their Christmas necessities than ever before. The store Next, for example, reported a 13.6% rise in their online sales in the 54 days before the 24th December.

This demonstrates the preference for convenience, and the improvements that continue to be made with deliveries. As Natalie Berg, global research director of Planet Retail, notes:

‘In retail, time wars are becoming the new price wars. A few years ago, three to four days was acceptable, but today same-day delivery is becoming the norm’.

As such, Argos was noted to have promised that customers who placed an order by 1pm on Christmas Eve would have it delivered by 6pm on that same day.

Shopping as an Experience

Despite increasing numbers of people choosing to do their Christmas shopping online, Network Rail has reported an increase in retail sales around the Christmas period. Interestingly, the stations with the greatest profit are all in London, which is often more likely to experience a mass exodus around this time, as people leave to visit family elsewhere. Paddington Station had the greatest increase at 42%, while Euston and Kings Cross experienced an increase of 12%.

As such, it is possible that this uptake in train station use at London demonstrates an enduring love with the experience of shopping, and other Christmas experiences. Visiting attractions, such as Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, and going shopping of Oxford Street, continue to be enjoyable Christmas experiences, regardless of the convenience of internet shopping.

Success Stories and Cautionary Tales

There are all sorts of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ out of the major shopping competitors over the Christmas period. This Christmas, Tesco’s can be considered a key winner as their seasonal sales were up 1.9%, with their food sales dominating at a growth of 3.4%.

John Lewis, another winner, saw a 3.1% sales hike over 6 weeks over the Christmas period, and partner Waitrose saw a hike of 1.5%.

The greatest winner, however, was Lidl, who saw an impressive leap of 16% in their sales over December. This clearly demonstrates a move towards value supermarkets, as wage concerns, inflation, and other financial concerns dominate consumer interests.

More telling, however, is the supermarket deemed the ‘loser’ of Christmas 2018: Marks and Spencer. They experienced a 2.8% drop in like for like clothing and home sales over 13 weeks, while their food sales were down 0.4%.

Similarly, Debenhams experienced a 2.6% drop, and House of Fraser experienced a 2.9% decrease. The struggling nature of ‘upper mid-range’ shops might demonstrate that there is not only increasing financial pressure, but also a growing inequality as the majority of people fall into two extremes: Waitrose, or Lidl.

Quality Food

Another enduring love, is that of food. While it is clear that consumers are not necessarily prepared to switch to a more up-market supermarket for their Christmas food, perhaps as they are managing debt or struggling with inflation, as shown by the persisting love of Lidl and Tesco’s, it is clear that consumers still want quality for Christmas.

As such, sales in premium food lines grew this Christmas. Morrison’s ‘The Best’ line, for example saw their sales increase by 25%, and Tesco’s similarly acknowledge that its record sales during the four weeks before 25th December were significantly due to increases in sales in their ‘Tesco’s Finest’ range.

Bryan Roberts, an insight director at TCC Global, noted:

‘What’s interesting is that instead of trading up to a premium supermarket like Waitrose or Marks & Spencer, people have been trading up within the normal retailers they shop at and just buying more premium products’

Dubious Discounts

With the introduction of Black Friday, increasingly a debate over the effectiveness of pre-Christmas and Christmas sales has dominated sales. As inflation limits the amount that consumers have to spend, they have begun to think and act critically, so as to avoid needing an IVA in the new year. This year was no exception.

The rise of online retail, in which you cannot always see the quality of your goods before you buy them, and the increasing use of sales, has made consumers more suspicious of discounts for the sake of discounts. As Jeremy Schwartz, former chairman and chief executive of The Body Shop argued:

‘Customers are getting so savvy and cynical about discounted products… Those retailers that have brought something new – a great quality, a great innovation, something new, and held their nerve on price – have been the ones who’ve been the winners’.

He refers to shops such as Next, who managed record increases in sales, while refusing to participate in Black Friday. The effectiveness of Black Friday can be brought into question, as there is often a ‘hangover’ effect that means that for the first week, or so, of December, consumers spend little as they no longer want to pay full price. This could mean that gains over the weekend can be lost over the proceeding weeks.

Doing Black Friday Right

As such, it seems that a winning formula has emerged in terms of Black Friday success stories. Dixons Carphone, for example, used Black Friday to sell products and promotions that they would not normally sell. They offered a limited amount, and this ensures that they are not simply selling products that they could have sold full-price.

As Roberts notes: ‘By having products just for Black Friday, Dixons is generating incremental spending that wouldn’t have happened anyway… One-off merchandising is the most sensible way to go, otherwise you’re diluting your margins’.