Christmas Past; Christmas Future?

With the Asda results due this week, the dust has sort of settled over Christmas trading. There are plenty of reports and coverage on the winners and loser based on sales and some evidence for some on the impacts on profits (a few warnings). There’s real difficulty in fully assessing the impact until the “proper” results are in, due to the effects on profits, the periods covered,m the impact of any January uplift (and this morning’s BRC Scottish retail sales figures clearly show a much better January than December) amongst other factors. So it is all really straws in the wind, though bad Christmas trading is never a good thing.

So, I’m not going to talk about details, but instead consider what may be a few trends from Christmas 2013. But before, that two stories:

On the 23rd December I was in the M&S in Cardiff. We’d gone to collect my mother’s pre-ordered food. That worked well; limited queue, quick service, all items correct. The ordinary food section though, that was chaos. But the odd thing happened on the way out. I spotted a jumper for my wife as an additional Christmas present (priced £15 (no expense spared obviously). But at the checkout it was £9.60. “There’s 40% off clothing today” No signs, no information, just a 40% reduction. M&S lose £5.40 and I wonder what is going on. No effect at all on my purchasing and if anything encouraging me to delay purchases in the future.

A week later I finally decided to buy a tablet. I knew which one I wanted and popped into PC World. They had none in stock but would take my order for next day delivery. Spelling out my details and the order to the salesman to enter into the computer, the system said “no delivery on New year’s Eve, will be 2nd January”. That’s OK. On New Year’s Eve I got a text saying delivery was now imminent and I could collect the tablet from the store immediately if I wanted. I did, it was there, great service.

So, two surprises. One saved me cash but made me less “loyal” or predictable. The other saved me time (perhaps) but added a journey for me, though exceeded expectations on delivery. Guess which had the better Christmas?

But the PC World story taught me another lesson; do it yourself online and avoid the store if you know what you want. All the store did for me was to ask me to tell someone my details so they could type them into the same system I can access online from home. Why waste time doing this? Shops, who needs them?

And that’s amongst the lessons that seem to be the story for future Christmases perhaps:

  • Shop early for things you know you want and with retailers who have something special to offer;
  • Do it online to save hassle and gain certainty;
  • Pre-order where you can for efficiency and you know what you want;
  • Buy late for ‘impulse’ or different items (my best purchase was from the unique Made in Stirling store);
  • Buy local for difference and/or convenience.

We really do live in a changed retail world and some retailers don’t seem to have got it, either in terms of consumer change or the role of technology and thus the role of the store. Hitting the panic button is never a good replacement for sorting out the strategy and having good products in stock that customers want and can get easily whether online or in store. I know it sounds easier than it is in reality, but customers are now less forgiving.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues.
This entry was posted in Availability, Christmas, Consumer Change, Internet shopping, Marks and Spencer, Multichannel, PC World, Technology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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