Christmas & Consumers in Europe in 2011: Will Scrooge Rule this Crisis Year?

Across Western economies, 2011 has been a year of crisis talk. Currencies are teetering, jobs are endangered and even homes are in jeopardy. Those “12 Saves of Christmas,” published in 2009 by BBC Watchdog’s Martin Lewis are just as important for panicky consumers this year as they were after the 2008 economic crisis. Never have internet chat rooms been so full of advice on how to be hard up and still have a happy Christmas. But there is more to Christmas than saving money, and consequently spending decisions often fall by the wayside at the last minute.

Background

  • Gallup pollsters in the US initially posted a forecast in November 2010, stating US spending on Christmas stood at $638; this increased to US$743 by December.
  • German families spent €613 on Christmas presents, travel and celebrations.  According to a survey conducted by the British Centre for Retail Research, that puts German families in second place among European consumers, after The UK, where €756 were spent
  • Families spent €637 in Sweden and€623 in Spain
  • The most economical nations were the Netherlands and France where families spent €443 and  €512, respectively.

Making shopping a part of the Christmas experience

All over Europe, Christmas shopping is becoming an event in itself. There is a tradition of Christmas markets in most major cities in Europe’s Catholic countries, with Munich, Nuremberg, Salzburg and Prague  as the most established Christmas destinations. Over the past decade, they have spread to countries as diverse as the UK, with London’s South Bank “German style” Christmas market now in its fourth year; Australia, with Dee Why Christmas by the Beach Market; or the Manila World Christmas Bazaar in the Philippines, where buying presents is secondary to enjoying the glittering atmosphere, drinking the mulled wine and eating that special Christmas confectionery.

Another way of making the shopping experience a part of the gift is Christmas shopping tourism. German airline, Lufthansa, offers Christmas shopping specials to New York. Every year, more than a million euro- and Swiss franc-toting pre-Xmas visitors annoy the local New Yorkers with their shouts of, “Oh look how cheap everything is!”

Seasonal buying trends

A study commissioned in October 2010 by online shopping portal Kelkoo puts Britain at the top of the toys and games buyers, while in Sweden consumer electronics are the biggest draw. Fashion conscious Italians naturally top the list when it comes to shoes and clothes, and Norwegians like to give presents from the cosmetics counter. These trends are not likely to change dramatically, except that consumer electronics are likely to be a major attraction as millions of children worldwide use their pester power will pester their parents to get the latest smartphone or iPad. In Eastern Europe, the total number of mobile subscriptions grew by 86.4% between 2005-2010, research from Euromonitor International shows, suggesting a mobile, smartphone and Apps bonanza for Christmas.

On the toy front, Fijit, an all-dancing squishy robot that tells jokes has been predicted by Tesco to become the chain’s Christmas hit, while UK toy retailer Hamlyn expects the Finn McMissile toy car from Pixar’s Cars 2 to be its number one seller.

Passionate cooks can’t have too many gadgets! With cooking blogs on a roll, gifts like teabag squeezers and the Magic Oven Liner from cookware sites like Oz. thecookingcompany.com.au and UK lakeland.co.uk will always fit in even the most crowded Christmas stocking. The cookery book market continues its steady progress: Penguin had record sales of Jamie Oliver’s “30-Minute Meals”, over Christmas 2010 and has high hopes for Jamie’s “Great Britain” for this coming Christmas.

Mobile Phone Subscriptions in Eastern Europe: 2005-2010

ScreenHunter_02 Nov. 21 11.25
Source: Euromonitor International from International Telecommunications Union/World Bank/ Trade Sources 

The internet bazaar

The role of online shopping in the Christmas shopping mix is gaining importance, as a survey on Christmas shopping from the British Centre for Retail Studies conducted and published in November 2010 shows. Online shopping is set to grow while offline sales, at least in Germany, remained almost completely static between 2009 and 2010. It is to be expected that this trend is continuing in 2011. The survey identifies British and Norwegian households as Europe’s top online shoppers, spending 22% of their Christmas budgets via the internet. Spain (6%) and Italy (4%) remain the most traditional Christmas shoppers.

Outlook

Christmas is a festival of emotions, and the tragically early death of Apple’s Steve Jobs may well herald a run on Apple products this Christmas and boost sales of the iPhone 5s. Overall, a cautious assessment of this year’s Christmas expectations comes from Tim Score, finance director at UK-based electronics company ARM Holdings, who warns that “There’s obviously a number of broad macro economic uncertainties that make us cautious as to whether the normal, seasonal uptick you see at the end of the year ahead of Christmas is significant as it had been in some other years.” By 2015, the UK Centre for Retail Research predicts, 50% of Christmas shopping will be conducted online.