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Christmas shoppers leaving it late and spending less

Cat & Mouse conundrum for retailers as crucial shopping weekend approaches.

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

Christmas shoppers leaving it late and spending less

Cat & Mouse conundrum for retailers as crucial shopping weekend approaches.

One in three Britons are leaving their Christmas shopping much later than they intended, and planning to spend less this festive season than in 2008, according to the latest wave of GfK NOP’s annual Christmas Spending survey.

The research, carried out between December 3rd- 6th reveals that almost two thirds (62%) of the UK public are doing most of their Christmas shopping this month – significantly more than the 36% who intended to do so when the same survey was carried out during September.

Christmas spend is also predicted to be down on last year, and lower than believed when surveyed this September. Last year, the UK public intended to spend an average £295 on gifts for close family and £62 for other family members. According to last weekend’s research these figures have fallen to £264 and £41 respectively for Christmas 2009. Average spend on gifts for friends/colleagues is down from £38 last year to £30; while the average intended amount spent on decorations is down from £35 to £22.

Across the board, UK consumers are planning to spend less on Christmas this year compared to last - apart from on food and drink - where the intended average spend has increased marginally from £139 in 2008 to £146 in 2009. This figure is in stark contrast, however, to the £191 average intended spend suggested by the September 2009 figures.

The results are mixed news for UK retailers. On the downside the UK public is planning to be more frugal than they suggested in September, and spend will be down from last year. Additionally, GfK NOP’s research consistently reveals that December shoppers spend less than those who start earlier in the year. On a more positive note, however, December shoppers make most of their purchases in-store rather than from home; pointing to a significant increase in spend over the crucial next ten days for high street retailers. The conundrum for retailers, therefore, is to what extent they opt to discount in order to get a good share of spend from the bargain-hunting December shopper; but without sacrificing too much margin.

Helen Roberts, Retail Research Director of GfK NOP comments: “The research suggests a game of ‘cat and mouse’ in the coming days; with retailers looking to attract their share of last minute Christmas spend through discounting, without eating too much into their margins. These results are mixed news – with the most marked negative the fall in consumer confidence in just three months since we last carried out the survey. On the flipside, however, there remains an opportunity to boost footfall and takings during the crucial next week or so.”

Aside from spend, attitudes towards financing Christmas paint a more optimistic picture than this time last year. In December 2008, 37% of the UK public were ‘more worried than ever’ about being able to afford presents – down to 28% this December – a possible reflection of the intended cut back on spending. Additionally it is evident that shoppers are  also becoming more pragmatic, with a third (33%) planning to buy gifts for less people this year, and 38% suggesting they will buy fewer ‘expensive’ presents than last Christmas.

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