Who are the key Christmas 2020 shoppers?

24 August 2020, 10:22 AM
  • Knowing your customer is essential if you’re going to hook them into your shop – and this year, Covid-19 has thrown a curveball for retailers
Who are the key Christmas 2020 shoppers?

Every day, the coronavirus pandemic seems to bring something new – whether it’s regional lockdowns, talk of a second spike or whispers of a new vaccine, uncertainty reigns supreme. For fine food retailers, this unpredictable environment can be incredibly difficult to work in, especially with Christmas on the horizon.

The clock is ticking, but whatever Covid-19 brings in the run-up to the festive season, it’s likely that steadfast Brits will seek out their celebrations in whatever way they can. But with consumer behaviours morphing throughout the lockdown, now is the time to examine who will be shopping for Christmas this year, what they’ll want to buy, and, importantly, how to get them into your shop.

The end of impulse-buys
In a recent report entitled Understanding the Path to Purchase: 2020 Consumer Types, Euromonitor set out 11 consumer types for 2020 based on a global survey. The research documented a growing interest in online platforms for shopping and connecting with others, growth in holistic approaches to healthy living and demand for flexibility – all trends that are “extremely relevant and expected to continue to grow at a faster rate due to the impact of Covid-19”.

The largest consumer type was the impulsive spender, making up 16% of the global population. These shoppers keep up with trends and are always on the hunt for discounts and bargains, but they also tend to value experiences over materialistic possessions. Through the pandemic, Euromonitor says this group will continue to spend money and place importance on experiences, even if that means switching to virtual options – they’re “highly likely” to buy online.

This group aligns with system one shopping, which Phillip Adcock, consumer psychology and behavioural science expert at Adcock Solutions, explains as impulsive and emotional. “It’s grab and go, it’s impulsive, it’s impetuous. System one lives for the now, it doesn’t think of the future.”

However, the lockdown brought an abrupt end to spontaneous browsing in-store, leading to the rise of a new type of shopper that comes armed with a plan, otherwise known as system two. Whether they are carers who are doing the shopping for a more vulnerable friend or family member or they’re cautious about catching or spreading the virus themselves, these shoppers are list-orientated and rational. “With system two, suddenly you’re not shopping as a normal human being with all the emotions that go with shopping. You’re shopping much more as a planned mission to get in, get out, get done and stay fit and well,” Phillip says.

System two shoppers need to be persuaded to come into a shop. This means window displays are more important than ever. “Over many recent years, people have forgotten what shop windows are for,” Phillip says. But, dramatic as it sounds, customers now have to risk their health when they shop. “So there has to be a reason to enter the store, and the window displays suddenly become a prime motivator to get me in the shop,” he explains.

Tugging on shoppers’ emotions or playing on FOMO, the fear of missing out, with limited-time offers, can be good motivators, as well as talking up your shop’s unique offerings. “If you go down the typical high street, all the stores are the same, all the ranges are the same. There’s no difference. So independent, specialty stores can really play the unique card,” Phillip says.

Another way that smaller shops can play to their own strengths is by making their customers feel safe and special. Older and anxious shoppers in particular will be on the lookout for shops where they know they’ll feel supported. Speciality food shops can cater to this group by offering appointment-only browsing sessions to people who are happy to pay more to lessen their risk of catching the virus.

Exclusive shopping sessions also accommodate speciality shops’ expertise and superior customer service. Clare Bailey, a retail expert and founder of The Retail Champion, explains: “If, for example, you were going to a local independent butchers to order your Christmas meat, you might have to book a time slot, but then at least you’ll have that one-to-one advice from a specialist, rather than the much more clinical experience of trekking up and down a supermarket.”

Know your customer
Euromonitor’s second and third-largest consumer groups, the Minimalist Seeker and the Empowered Activist, which make up a combined 25% of the population, value supporting local businesses and prioritise eco-friendliness and sustainability when shopping.

Before the pandemic, shops may have been able to target this group through strides made in zero-waste and plastic-free packaging, but Covid-19 has turned this on its head. Many consumers are placing more importance on their health than sustainability, with packaged produce, confectionery and bakery products becoming more appealing than loose options that more people may have touched in store.

While a group of more than 100 scientists has written a statement to reassure consumers that reusable containers do not pose an increased risk of transmitting the virus and warned against the over-consumption of single use plastics, going forwards, the best way to attract these groups will be emphasising local credentials and continuing to stock sustainable products. According to Euromonitor, throughout the pandemic the Minimalist Seeker and Empowered Activist will “place even more emphasis on shopping locally, supporting local businesses as well as continuing to make eco-friendly and sustainable purchases”.

Another interesting lockdown development for specialist food shops such as butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers was the emergence of a younger customer base. Research from IGD found that nearly a quarter of 18 to 24 year olds said they had visited speciality stores in 2020, up from 20% in 2019.

This is “an opportunity not to be missed” for shops to permanently expand their customer base, says Clare, and retailers should make the most of it by building new relationships with their younger customers. “There’s nothing better than a crisis to bring people together. If people appreciate what the retailers do for them, hopefully they’ll keep coming back long after the pandemic’s over.”

Making the sale
Equally important to attracting customers is stocking the products they’ll want to buy ahead of Christmas this year. According to Clare, customers will be after all the usual Christmas classics – but they might not be as picky, especially if lockdown restrictions are in place.

Clare explains: “If I can’t get a turkey, but I can get two chickens, do I really care as long as I’ve got something? I can’t imagine that the Covid situation will have changed the types of things that people want for their family traditional Christmas, but the way they go about it might be very different.”

Again, how these shopping habits could change depends on whether people are able to socialise in the same way as previous years. “It could change literally days before,” Clare says. “So what that leaves us with is a very challenging act for planning.”

But it’s not all bad news – there are some clear wins that independents can target this year. For example, with more shoppers pre-planning their visits, Phillip advises breaking into the planning process. “If you sell a unique range of cakes, give people stickers on those cakes to stick on their Christmas shopping list. Or brand the lists themselves: offer a free Christmas list from your deli, so the name is already on the list.

“The secret is marginal gains, and that’s how independents can beat multiples,” Phillip says.

It also comes down to building trust. “Stay in contact with customers. If you promise them great service, flexibility, and convenience, and that you’re adaptable and responsive, whether you’re a local butchery or independent cake maker, you’re more likely to get sales – even if you’re a little bit more expensive – because of the trust and the loyalty,” Clare says. “That sense that you’ve taken pain away from the process by making it as easy as possible to shop.”

Most of all, consumers fear getting Christmas wrong. Phillip suggests that shops that can allay those fears by offering testimonials and assurances about the high quality of their products. “The most important emotion any retailer can go after is the trust of the shopper.”

Don’t miss online opportunities
Another way retailers can build trust is by connecting with their customers, and at the moment, the best place to do that is online. “There’s a massive opportunity for these independents to continually use the likes of social media to remain connected and in communication with their customer base, and to make the experience as frictionless as possible,” Clare says.

Shops don’t have to set up a full e-commerce site – it can be as simple as starting a Facebook page and offering local deliveries through email or phone orders. “It’s about being authentic, being true to your values and not just promoting the product but talking to customers.” Clare’s advice for those that are new to the world of online shopping? Think about your customer base and start planning ASAP. “Start now so that it isn’t a new experience in peak trading.”

Clare believes that despite the challenges, now is the time for small businesses to shine. “Because they don’t have very big corporate entities behind them, they can change in a minute. If they decide to do something different, they just do it. So this is an opportunity for them to shine and to secure lasting, meaningful relationships within the community.”

Without a crystal ball, it’s impossible to predict what Christmas will look like this year. What we do know is that the big winners of Christmas 2020 will be the businesses that can pivot to the circumstances and adapt and evolve quickly while ensuring at the same time that their customers feel safe and listened to.

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