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UK Market Trends Ahead of the Holiday Shopping Season

6 MINUTE READ | November 18, 2020

UK Market Trends Ahead of the Holiday Shopping Season

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Edward Grice, Head of EMEA

Edward Grice has written this article. More details coming soon.

UK Market Trends

​National coronavirus lockdown restrictions in the UK have driven brick-and-mortar stores to close once again, compounding the pandemic’s financial impact on high street retailers and teeing up online shops to reap the rewards of holiday shopping this season. According to some assessments, UK retail footfall for November is expected to drop by over 62 percent year over year, and high streets will take the biggest hit, suffering from an estimated 87.3 percent decline. 

Since the pandemic began, retailers have been quick to adapt, placing greater emphasis on improving their online commerce capabilities and shifting messaging to better meet the needs of consumers. With physical stores across the UK now set to miss out on in-store sales in the run-up to the holidays, consumer search trends have shifted too, with demand increasing around newfound terms. Searches for “lockdown shopping” spiked when Prime Minister Boris Johnson first announced that coronavirus restrictions were set to go into effect, as consumers looked for answers to how their shopping habits would be impacted by the latest safety measures.

Source: Google Trends (Searches for “lockdown shopping” in the UK over the past 30 days) 

With the second national lockdown taking effect so close to retailers’ biggest sales period, brands now face a greater need to drive early holiday sales, or else suffer incalculable losses to the bottom line. Though the push for early holiday sales isn’t exclusive to the pandemic (or a new concept), elements of this “pull forward” effect have been playing out for some time as marketing campaigns for key promotional periods seems to start earlier and earlier every year. Even the time between Black Friday and Cyber Monday now being referred to as “Cyber Week” or “Cyber Five” is an example of this phenomenon.  

As a result of these trends, we’re already seeing a flood of early Black Friday messaging across platforms as retailers compete to attract consumers ahead of the holiday. The battle to gain early market share has also resulted in consumers seeking clarity on when to buy products and even the best time to buy; enabling brands with unique opportunities, such as targeting consumers before they have consciously started their research journey. 

A Gymshark ad takes the top spot on Google for a query related to general Black Friday information.

(Of course, marketers should still consider that there are plenty of eager, savvy consumers who have already begun to compile their wish lists for Black Friday shopping and also those who will prioritize price and the speed of fulfillment above everything else.) 

Brands that are pushing early Black Friday deals will likely drive an early sales lead, but in this period of unpredictability, retail marketers should remain agile and be ready to respond to more challenges that could impact their business and their ability to market to customers.  

To help jump-start this optimization process, here are five recommendations you can implement to ensure performance media is ready to go. In executing these best practices, you’ll be more equipped to take advantage of unique opportunities as they come your way.  

  1. Budgets — Ensure that you have adequate budget to support any unexpected surges in demand. Brand coverage should be maintained with enough non-brand coverage to help drive continued awareness during such a critical period for your business. As a marketer, there is nothing more frustrating than knowing you’ve left a revenue opportunity on the table.

  2. Keyword Health Check Perform a mini audit of your account before and during the peak period. Ensure you have coverage of any terms that have historically performed well for you, and be ready to respond to changes (and challenges) as they come. Regular reviews of Search Query Reports (SQRs) will help you take advantage of new opportunities and whittle out any low performers. 

  3. Targeting Think carefully about who you are targeting, as taking a blanket approach to “Black Friday deals” may garner eyeballs but little in the way of conversion. Use audience targeting and negatives to narrow targeting down to only the most engaged consumers. 

  4. Messaging — Customers have always wanted convenience but it certainly holds true during this time as millions will rely on online shopping to fulfill their wishlists. Remember that during the first lockdown, customers were more focused on free & fast shipping and free returns. At a time when consumer movement is limited, calling out these unique selling points (USPs) could be essential for capturing sales.

  5. Stock/Order Fulfilment — Many brands share stock levels across markets, which could be impacted by changes to lockdown-related travel restrictions or consumer movement across the EU. Keep on top of stock levels and remember where key products are housed to avoid any delays with delivery and any potential customer disappointment, especially for shoppers looking for guaranteed-by-Christmas shipping.

2020 has been quite unpredictable (to say the least), as agility became a superpower for many and digital marketers were perhaps best equipped to help businesses navigate through the uncertainty and changing consumer demands. While there are plenty of unknowns heading into the holiday season, history tells us that leading performance indicators can help us best understand what to expect from consumers during moments of economic volatility. 

One such indicator is Amazon Prime Day 2020, which fell later in the year (October 2020) and benefited from changing consumer demands — the same demands we can expect to see during the 2020 holiday season. Prime Day shoppers prioritized convenience, availability, and price most of all, as ease of fulfillment, delivery, and returns become more of a priority for homebound shoppers in the UK. By all accounts, Prime Day outperformed expectations and even broke online shopping records, which leads analysts to believe that Amazon will account for 65 percent of all Black Friday spend in the UK this year.  

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This holiday season represents a significant opportunity for retailers to drive online sales and offset the impact and disruption caused by the pandemic on the high street. Marketers can best prepare for this time by following best practices and keeping up with consumer trends, helping their brand end the year on a high, and set up for even greater success in 2021.

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