What to expect at Christmas

The arrival of October means that we’re now officially in Nielsen’s Christmas trading period. Manufacturers and retailers alike have until December 30 to optimise their sales plans and activate them in-store in order to win at Christmas.

Christmas Day will fall on a Monday, so what can we expect? I anticipate the busiest day of trading will be Saturday, December 23. It’s the last day of full opening, as Christmas Eve opening hours will be restricted by Sunday trading laws. We also tend to see that the big stores quieten down in the afternoon of Christmas Eve as shoppers settle into their homes with their families.

This opens up a good opportunity for the convenience channel, where smaller stores aren’t affected by Sunday trading laws. They are in a prime position to make the most of the last-minute top-up shop for forgotten groceries or gifts for overlooked relatives.

Christmas is hugely important to the off-trade drinks market: the 12 weeks to Christmas account for over 28% of annual sales, and even more in the most seasonal categories. Around 40% of annual Champagne and fortified wine sales, and over a third of sparkling wine and spirits sales, happen during the final 12 weeks of the year. I can’t mention sparkling wines and spirits without a nod to Prosecco and gin. These two have been driving their respective categories’ growth over the last year, and winning retailers will focus their in-store activity here, and on other seasonal champions.

Before long, the big Christmas drinks promotions will be starting. Timed promotions will coincide with the end of the month, when shoppers are most likely to have been paid and will be looking to snap up deals. But it’s important not to leave promotions too late. While some shoppers will be buying alcohol as gifts, many will be looking to entertain friends and family at home, and will be hunting for the best offers.

It sounds obvious, but make it easy. Shoppers like a bargain, especially at Christmas, so if you’ve got a great deal on BWS, use the media to tell them about it and encourage them to visit your store or website. Those who venture into stores in December are likely to have had to queue just to get into the car park, so make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for. Keep products at the same price together to facilitate comparisons. If you’re running a multibuy, make it crystal clear which products are included to avoid disappointment at the checkout. Monitor stock levels carefully – if a shopper is after a particular product, they won’t be forgiving of an empty shelf and will go elsewhere.

Winning retailers will offer a range of price points. Those who were successful last year promoted across all tiers of the market, from core to super-premium. Gift packs are becoming increasingly important, as shoppers look to treat their friends and family with alcohol – not just spirits, but in beers and wines – and these can be a profitable stream of revenue.

Growth in online sales continues to out-perform bricks-and-mortar.  Shoppers don’t feel the same pressure as they would do in a store environment, so there’s time to linger over purchases. Think carefully about how to maximise the impact of this comparatively leisurely shopping experience, and how to entice buyers to view a greater range of available products. The race is on.

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