Christmas shopping behaviour patterns

Mastercard is ramping up its data analysis with a view to assisting Dublin City Council
Mastercard is ramping up its data analysis with a view to assisting Dublin City Council

With €3.5 billion of cuts made in the recent budget, consumers are approaching Christmas with a certain amount of trepidation this year. Danielle Pinnington, MD at Shopper research agency Shoppercentric, looks at the trends that have evolved this year



18 December 2012

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Many people were holding off Christmas shopping until the Budget on 5 December so they would be able to calculate how much better or worse off they would be in the new year. The news wasn’t good and due to impending cuts to children’s allowance, PRSI increases and the new property tax landing on our doorsteps, shoppers are being very vigilant about spending within their means.

Danielle Pinnington has made several observations on Christmas shopping habits this year based on feedback from clients and shoppers she has encountered. She realised that while people may be worried about their financial situations, they regard Christmas as the biggest celebration of the year and don’t want to scrimp but are much more concerned about keeping within the household budget than in previous years. 

"All in all, it’s been a tough year for retailers," says Pinnington. "Not only are shoppers aiming to cut back on the added extras, they are actively managing their budgets and looking to avoid waste / unwanted purchases. Retailers need to actively sell Christmas – which means creating the right ambience, presenting products in an appealing way, and putting together related products so that shoppers find ‘solutions’ to their needs easily. Tap into the Christmas spirit and shoppers will spend – on the flip side if you assume Christmas is a done deal, shoppers are going to keep their purse strings tight."

She says that those on tight budgets have started shopping earlier and have been stockpiling perishables, since as far back as September. She says they are also becoming increasingly savvy about the promotions they buy into. 

"I think people are being a bit more sensible and rather than taking every single promotion that they see, they are thinking, ‘do I actually need two of those?’ They are looking for promotions around money off what they actually need rather than ones that encourage them to buy more."

Avoiding waste

Buying just what you need has become a feature of shopping now, even at Christmas time. Waste makes people feel guilty so buying enough rather than too much is paramount.

"The multi-buy promotions that worked in the past, don’t necessarily work these days because that can drive waste and push the budget. Retailers are seeing shoppers pull back from those fill your boots promotions and businesses are having to think more cleverly about tying shoppers into their stores for longer than just one shop. They are looking at how they can get consumers to come back for all their Christmas shopping."

"Shoppers aren’t aiming at a completely laden-down table of food, instead they are focusing on there being enough. There is a tendency to try and reduce wastage – some leftovers are always part of Christmas e.g. cold turkey sandwiches in the evening / next day, but consumers are not wanting to end up throwing loads away."

She says that in 2012, the focus will be on the experience and enjoying family time, rather than the material things.

Danielle Pinnington, MD at Shoppercentric

Danielle Pinnington, MD at Shoppercentric

Shopping around

While shopping around is nothing new for consumers who’ve become adept at it in recent years, Pinnington says that for Christmas, people will typically use one supermarket for their main grocery shop and use up to two others for top up shopping which allows them to keep an eye on pricing and make comparisons as they go along.

More people are shopping online to find the best price and people are availing of click and collect services to avoid the hassle of waiting for deliveries. Another feature is that shoppers are using vouchers and coupons to buy goods and are not embarrassed to do so. Pinnington says that promotions and sales before Christmas are big business for stores. 

"On traditional purchases, prices from last year (including promotional prices) are being used as the benchmark when working out value this year."


Pinnington found that gifting circles are decreasing and that shoppers are just focusing on the people that really matter in their lives. When buying presents, people are being a lot more practical and are purchasing presents that are needed as opposed to random items that might have been purchased in the past.

"Grandparents are taking themselves out of the gifting circle and saying "don’t buy for us, we have everything, buy for the kids instead". Although adults are worried about money, they don’t want it to affect the children or make children aware that things are tight. However they are keeping children’s expectations in check and making sure its quality not quantity, and letting them know that there are limits.

She also noted that: "There’s less of a concern about giving money, not feeling that it is lazy, because it might be appreciated more than ever."



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