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By Catherine Erdly

With the continued uncertainty surrounding the retail industry in the wake of Covid-19, there is evidence that customers are shopping for Christmas earlier than ever. What does this mean for consumers, and retailers both online and offline?

How will the consumer be thinking about Christmas this year?

There is no doubt that the festive season this year will carry special significance for many. It is unclear whether or not we will be able to see loved ones in person, and many people who would have travelled to see family will now be unable to do so.

Gifting is always the biggest driver of sales at Christmas, and this year customers will be looking for the ability to send gifts directly to loved ones. Whether or not a business offers direct-to-recipient options such as gift wrap and messaging will play a big part in consumer decision-making.

Shoppers are getting organised earlier than ever

Whether it’s due to a desire to look forward to brighter times, or simply an attempt to spread out the cost of Christmas over a longer time period, there are a significant number of shoppers getting ready for Christmas earlier than ever before.

“We are seeing advance enquires for Christmas items for the home indicating that this sector will continue to perform well.” states Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA).

And online, as far back as April, Pinterest PINS +7.3% was reporting that Christmas-related searches were up significantly on the previous year, with Google GOOGL +1.5% trends data showing that searches on “Christmas gift ideas” have started to peak earlier than previous years.

If you want to buy it, buy it now

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With Covid-19 having severely disrupted supply chains across the world, there is no doubt that getting the right Christmas stock, always a challenge for retailers, will be infinitely harder this year.

And that disruption for the retailers will mean that last minute shoppers might face disappointments as well.

O’Connor states “It’s usually better to err on the side of caution when it comes to holiday shopping, however this is especially true this year, so shop early to avoid disappointment.”

Will this be the best Christmas yet for online sales?

“Amazon AMZN +2.3% is adding new transportation capacity and hiring 100,000 new employees in anticipation of high holiday demand, while Fedex FDX +1% is hiring 70,000 workers.” O’Connor added – a clear indicator of how big Christmas demand for online sellers is expected to be.

Ecommerce emerged as the clear winner during lockdown, climbing to nearly a third of all retail sales. With new restrictions looming, it looks like this shift to online selling could remain for the Christmas months.

As Goodacre summarises, “There is no doubt that consumer focus on Christmas is starting early, but the initial ‘browsing’ is happening on-line, and the real threat is that the bulk of the purchases will remain on-line, especially if the Covid restrictions become tighter.

Our fears are that many businesses will fold if Christmas sales do not live up to previous years.”

Despite the remaining uncertainty for the retail industry as new restrictions come in to force, it’s clear that the customer is looking to get prepared. Whether Christmas sales shift online or not, one thing is clear – if you have something particular on your list for the festive season, this is not the year to leave it until the last minute to buy.