The changing face of Christmas food shopping


Date: 15th Jan 2018

Vic Davies, Senior Lecturer in Bucks Business School, writes:

At this time in January, thoughts often turn to that dreaded question of ‘just how much did Christmas cost me?’

This is an okay question if you look back and remember the past festive season with fondness and an accumulation of throngs of happy people and lots of pleasing presents.  

But it will evoke a somewhat chillier response if your memories are slightly threadbare of just exactly what you got for all that effort, time and money.  

These emotions are not just evident at a personal level but also present in the boardrooms of UK retailers as they scan the Christmas sales figures.

The scores are now in on most of the major retail chains and for some they do not make good reading, whilst for others it was the season of bountiful giving by the consumer.  

The media pundits and financial analysts had predicted a rather simplistic view that Christmas 2017 would be good for food retailers and bad for all others.

Certainly they were right about grocery sales where UK consumers increased expenditure on grocery by 3.8%, which accounted for some £1bn more than in 2016. However the reality is somewhat more complex than that.

Grocery outlets such as Morrisons, Tesco, and Sainsbury’s have all had record sales increases, as has John Lewis’s grocery chain, Waitrose. But whereas in the past food has been Marks & Spencer’s ‘get out of jail card’, this time even this has not worked, with like-for-like sales in the UK falling by 1.4% in the last 13 weeks of 2017, with food sales down by 0.4% and clothing sales down by 2.8%.

The real winners were the relative new kids on the block of Aldi and Lidl which saw sales increases of 16.8%, far ahead of the single figure increases of their older rivals, the big beasts of the UK grocery sector of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrison.

But will the shape of Christmas Future be the smiling logo of Amazon? Research by Kantar Millward Brown showed that when it came to which adverts would persuade customers to buy, Amazon’s ad outscored John Lewis, which ranked only 13th having previously held the unofficial crown of most anticipated Christmas ad.

And Amazon literally drove the success of Morrisons’ 10% online growth as their delivery partner along with Ocado.

The questions for Christmas in future may therefore be to what extent the general shifts in our grocery shopping habits observed in recent years are now transferring to the Christmas period and at what point voice devices like Amazon Alexa become the grocery shopper’s helper as we organise our Christmas food?

If that does happen what will happen to all those Christmas TV ads we like to watch, but which we do not necessarily react to? Even here we may see a change, as our TV viewing habits change away from the TV set in the corner of  the living room to ads specifically designed and addressed to us as individuals via our personalised digital devices.


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