Shoppers buying ‘fewer but better’ in run up to Christmas

Two-thirds (66%) of people would rather go without a Christmas present this year if the gift-giver is worried about money, according to credit provider Vanquis (PA) (PA Archive)
Two-thirds (66%) of people would rather go without a Christmas present this year if the gift-giver is worried about money, according to credit provider Vanquis (PA) (PA Archive)

Shoppers are buying “fewer but better” items in the run-up to Christmas as the cost of living crisis bites, a leading retail boss said on Friday.

Pippa Wicks, Executive Director of John Lewis, said people had been spreading the cost of their Christmas shopping out over a longer period to manage the cost. She said sales of Christmas tress baubles had tripled in August compared to previous years.

“What we’ve seen is that people have been spreading the cost of Christmas over a number of months now,” Ms Wicks told Times Radio.

“So whereas buyers for Christmas might have ramped up from August, September, October, November and December, it’s sort of been quite even across the pitch.”

She added: “I think they’re buying probably fewer items, but buying better items which is not necessarily a bad thing, both in terms of for them, for the planet and for us as retailers.”

Her remarks come as retailers were braced for a quieter Black Friday than recent years as soaring inflation and fears of a recession dampen demand.

Although footfall in shops is expected to be up this Christmas - this year is the first without Covid lockdown rules since 2019 - experts predict sales and profits could be lower than last year as people tighten their belts.

Richard Lim, head of consultancy Retail Economics, told the BBC he was expecting Black Friday to be a more “muted affair” with sales down on last year.

“Inevitably, I think what we’re going to see is consumers being much more careful with their spending,” he said.

Ed Connolly, chief commercial officer at Currys, said more people were paying for electrical goods by credit compared with last year.

People “are looking for ways to spread cost over a longer period of time,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“When you put that together with some of the other shopping behaviours we’re seeing, the types of products that people are buying - such as energy efficient products being significantly on the rise - I think you can draw from that that customers are worried about their finances and more concerned perhaps about their future finances than they were this time last year,” he said.

Ms Wicks predicted it would be a difficult 12-18 months ahead for retailers as the UK economy slides into what is predicted to be a relatively shallow but long recession.

“Every retailer, will see the next 12 to 18 months as being quite challenging,” she said. “And obviously we’re trying to do everything we can to make sure we manage our costs but also provide exactly what our customers want.”