Panic buying picks up ahead of Christmas

11 October 2021, 10:56 AM
  • Shoppers are preparing for the festive season early this year, with footfall expected to peak around Black Friday, experts predict
Panic buying picks up ahead of Christmas

With reports of shortages across the UK’s food and drink supply chains, consumers are responding by getting into the shops much earlier than usual for their Christmas purchases.

A recent survey by Lumina Intelligence revealed that a third (34%) of consumers either have or are considering purchasing food and drink for Christmas before the end of October. Panic buying is striking the UK again, with 55% of consumers saying they are worried about shortages following media coverage on stockpiling of food and drinks.

Stockpiling begins

The categories that consumers were most likely to stock up on before the end of October were confectionery (66%), crisps and snacks (57%), tinned and packaged products (55%), and alcohol (55%). Soft drinks (51%) and frozen food (45%) followed closely behind.

It comes as Waitrose reported that shoppers who celebrate Christmas are prepping earlier than ever before, with searches of ‘Christmas’ up 50% on the supermarket’s website compared to last year. Searches for Christmas cake and Christmas pudding were both up 46%, while panettone searches rocketed 103%. Shoppers also appear to be preparing for a digital Christmas shop, with searches for Christmas delivery up 124%.

“Christmas this year will be incredibly different to last, when travel restrictions and last-minute regional lockdowns ended most people’s festive plans,” said Blonnie Whist, insight director at Lumina Intelligence. “Consumers will be looking to make up for lost time and with no restrictions surrounding gatherings we can expect big celebrations. However, media coverage surrounding product shortages due to the HGV driver shortage, Brexit and Covid is concerning shoppers, with some already stockpiling ahead of Christmas and many more likely to follow suit. 

“Retailers need to be prepared for Christmas preparations to start early this year and should expect a bumper year for sales, but also need to communicate clearly with shoppers to ensure purchasing behaviours do not hit the extremes of April 2020 when the pressures on the supply chain peaked,” Blonnie added.

Footfall to peak early

Further research by retail intelligence firm Springboard supports expectations for a boom in early Christmas shopping. The firm forecasts that consumers will be anticipating supply issues, which will cause the greatest increase in footfall over the six-week period to occur over Black Friday (week 47), with a predicted boost of +7.9% from the week before. This will be a greater rise than the increase of +6.5% in the final week of Christmas trading (week 51), the group predicts.

And while footfall is expected to be a whopping 80.8% stronger than in 2020, when the UK was forced into lockdown 2, Springboard expects footfall to be 17% lower than in 2019 across retail destinations. 

Over 40% predict winter lockdown

Is another winter lockdown on the cards for Britain? 42% of consumers think so, according to new research from Mintel. Despite this, 69% say people will be less compliant with the rules of any new lockdown, while 51% say they are better prepared for a lockdown now.

Even if no lockdown comes, two-thirds think rules around masks will get stricter in the winter, and 70% still say it’s important to wear a mask while grocery shopping. 

“Consumers are by no means ignorant to the persistent risk the virus still poses, as shown by the continued support for mask usage in many public forums, and should deaths start to rise again, it is likely that support for mask usage will rise even further,” said Jack Duckett, associate director of consumer lifestyles research at Mintel. “But with many people viewing vaccines as a means to leave social distancing in the past, the return of more extreme social distancing rules (including a full lockdown) is likely to find consumers less compliant with each reimposition.

“For brands, it has been important since the start of the pandemic to prove to consumers that they are trustworthy and able to support their customers throughout these lifestyle changes. And this is still critical today,” he added.

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