Christmas in September

As I walked through my local Waitrose, contemplating which suntan lotion to buy in the run up to my late summer holiday, something caught my eye. It wasn’t the abundance of late night shoppers, or an alcohol offer to help forget the fact that it was raining outside, but a box of minced pies nestled comfortably next to a pack of gingerbread whirls.

This must be a mistake I thought; it’s not even October and I haven’t had my fill of the summer sun yet. How can I be thinking about Christmas when I’m still wearing shorts? But there they were and it got me thinking; I can’t imagine Christmas Jumpers or Mince Pies flying off the shelves in September, so why do retailers put their Christmas stock out so early?

Christmas comes early?

With the opening of the Christmas market at John Lewis on Oxford Street not long ago, the addition of Christmas jumpers on ASOS and Christmas puddings being offered from almost every high street grocery store, it seems that Christmas is swiftly approaching. Coupled with the fact that the first Christmas products arrived on the shelves at Selfridges on July 31st, it seems that retailers are positioning themselves for a strong Christmas season.

What the average shopper doesn’t know, is that early access to consumer purchasing choices can enable retailers to stock up with the right product assortments for peak sales. A well-known high street retailer races to get their Christmas cards on sale every year for August Bank Holiday weekend. Years of trading that weekend has shown them that, almost unbelievably, their bestselling Christmas cards on that weekend will be their bestselling cards in the run up to Christmas too. An early launch, and therefore an early sales reaction, gives them time to buy back on their best sellers and air freight stock ready for peak trade.

Earlier purchasing patterns; improved ability to react

According to Retail WeekLast Christmas was the strongest festive retail performance since 2011, when Christmas also fell on a Sunday.” It is essential for retailers to continue moving from strength to strength when the opportunity of a successful season presents itself. With a slow start to 2017 and autumn winter peak swiftly upon us, retailers should be using early access to customer spending habits to interpret, react and adjust future orders, to capitalise peak sales.

Retailers are already adopting strategies with a greater emphasis placed on data gathering and analysis to inch ever closer to their consumers’ needs, “Data analytics is where 71% of retailers are prioritising their investment to better understand customer behaviour”. As always, the key is; the right stock, in the right place, at the right time – be it in September or December. Not only enabling retailers to capture increased sales, the right information can unlock cross-functional benefits too; “We found 59% of retailers use predictive analytics to improve warehousing and logistics. This is a game-changer during peak delivery periods”.

What is in it for retailers?

A vast array of festive goods in the shops in September can be baffling and infuriating for the end consumer, but the end result for a retailer is very clear;

  • early indication of seasonal trends & consumer spending habits
  • proactive rankings of best to worst sellers within product ranges
  • assortment benchmarks against competitors
  • clearer identification of peaks and troughs; leading to cost optimisation

All this sales data, as well as faster product development times and increasingly flexible manufacturing methods which are reducing lead times, mean retailers are going to be in the best position yet this Christmas.

Who are these people buying their Christmas cards in August and September though? They must be crazy, I thought, as I heated up my mince pie in the oven and put on my onesie.