25 November 2020

The shifting sands of seasonal shopping

By Joe Durbridge

Pre COVID-19, it was put to me that there may be a shift in retail customer behaviour, away from high spend during the traditional retail seasons. This would make current marketing strategies outdated, so we felt it well worth investigating. 

Consumer research on spending patterns

According to Statista, spending patterns in the UK remain consistent, with retail sales continuing to peak during December, followed by March, June and September. This is comparable to research from the National Retail Federation about shopping habits state-side.

However, there are other sources suggesting that some external influencers may begin the change the seasons.

Stretching the seasons

According to Retail Next seasons are beginning to “stretch”, starting earlier and finishing later. Surveys suggest August now accounts for less than 50 percent of total Back to School shopping, increasing numbers have done their Christmas shopping before September, and some of the traditional December traffic is falling into January as people wait for the sales. 

Defining seasonality in retail

Another notion of how retail seasons are shifting is in how we define seasonality - ‘holiday-driven seasonal shopping’ and ‘climate-driven seasonal shopping’.

According to Omnia unseasonable weather can seriously affect retail sales. In October 2018 Superdry announced a 49% drop in their shares, largely blamed on the hot summer and their inability to sell jackets and coats. Uncooperative weather only underpins the reason retailers need to stay agile in their pricing, marketing and product mix. If temperatures soar unexpectedly, so will demand for warm weather clothing and vice versa.

Another factor is that travel is much cheaper now. There has been a 300% increase in overseas trips since the mid-90s. The upshot is consumers can now escape to the sun or snow, year-round, creating product demand for all seasons, regardless of the weather at home. 

It’s a generation thing

It also appears that generations behave differently. A recent study by Yes Lifecycle Marketing showed that 33% of Centennials start their holiday shopping after Black Friday, whilst 25% of Millennials shop year-round. Conversely, Generation X and baby boomers do most of their holiday shopping from September to November.

Seasons are influenced by sales

Whilst the peak seasons are still exactly that, they no longer deliver the profitability they once did. Seasonal shopping is now almost entirely deal-driven, presenting retailers with further challenges.

A BBC news report explained how British shoppers now wait for the sales and make purchases out of season, holding onto them until needed. And this has led to a fall in sales. Retail analyst, Richard Hyman comments, “there are twin evils at play here - the discounting going on and retailers not knowing their customers well enough to know what they want. In 90% of the trading weeks in 2016, more than half of fashion retailers had some sort of sale going on." This results in customers waiting for prices to inevitably drop, and creates mistrust around whether goods were overpriced in the first place.


The traditional seasons are still relevant and will continue to largely dictate spending patterns for now. That said, the seasons are stretching and can be heavily influenced by the weather, economics, politics and of course, pandemics. But it seems the biggest agent of change is the ubiquity of sales and promotions, which is clearly beginning to change the consumer mindset - wait for sales, not seasons.

Recommendations for retailers

Use dynamic channels

Digital channels can launch ads quickly, using timely and segmented messaging – something traditional media can never achieve as efficiency.

Use data to inform messaging

By using demographic and psychographic data, such as a customer’s interests, we are far more likely to be able to show them products they want, regardless of what is “normally sold” that month.

Avoid sales-led messaging

Sales are so widely used now that the messaging struggles to cut-through. It also cheapens the brand.  Avoid a race to the bottom and focus on the product’s other selling points rather than just price.

Don’t just focus on the recipient

Holiday season shopping, for example is not all about gifts.  Many purchases made are to treat ourselves.  Don’t forget that in your messaging – who doesn’t want to feel special? It’s been s hell of a year.

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