The festive season is upon us, and this year, the spirit of Christmas is taking on a new dimension. It’s not just about extravagant celebrations and luxurious dinners; there’s been a shift in how we plan and buy for the season given some of the external pressures. The holiday spirit, traditionally confined to a few weeks, now extends far beyond, with events as early as Halloween heralding the start of the extended festive season.

To outline what I’ve seen in retail among this year’s Christmas festivities so far, I’ve highlighted the 10 key takeaways from the retail festive season.

1. Celebrating amid the increased cost of living

Despite the increased cost of living, last year’s Christmas experience revealed a resilient spirit among people who still look forward to the yearly festive celebrations. The focus has shifted from extravagant spending to cherishing the joy that comes from the effort that goes into seasonal events.

This change in mindset is reflected in consumers’ desires to spread the cost and manage their spending wisely this year. 

While there is an eagerness to celebrate, there’s also a reluctance to spend too early, with many holding out for anticipated deals. This approach to holiday spending highlights a shift towards more mindful and strategic consumer behaviour amid challenging economic conditions.

2. Christmas has come early

This year marks a shift in the way retailers are approaching the holiday season. Consumers traditionally hold out for the Christmas deals and offers to start their shopping, and retailers have met this demand by beginning the shopping period early. Shortly after Halloween has concluded, stores wasted no time in transitioning to the festive period with an influx of promotions and celebrations. 

This proactive move is intended to captivate shoppers by providing them with an extended window of opportunity for planning and indulging in everything that Christmas has to offer. By introducing Christmas at a timely juncture, retailers hope to capitalise on the rising appetites for early access to seasonal products and gifts, helping shoppers who want to get ahead and get prepped earlier than usual. 

3. A Value-Centric Christmas

This Christmas, retailers are embracing a value-centric approach, making the holiday season not just festive but affordable. At Sainsbury’s we’ve accommodated this focus on value with our Festive Feast deal, feeding six for £19.41 with Nectar.

Morrisons, in a bid to spread holiday cheer without breaking the bank, has taken a bold step by slashing the prices of 58 Christmas favourites, offering discounts of up to 20%. Meanwhile, loyalty programmes are taking centre stage this holiday season, with Clubcard prices and Nectar Prices ensuring that shoppers are not only rewarded for their loyalty but also provided with the best prices. 

This collective effort by retailers underscores a market-wide commitment to prioritising consumer value in the spirit of the season.

4. Black Friday

In the present economic landscape, Black Friday has solidified its status as the perfect kick-off to bargain buying during the Christmas countdown. It serves as a prime opportunity for customers to begin their holiday shopping, capitalising on an abundance of deals and bargains. This event encourages early engagement, prompting shoppers to explore both physical stores and online platforms in search of optimal value well in advance of their festive celebrations

5. The Shopper Experience

In the festive season, it’s more important than ever to have activations that immerse the customer into the full feel of Christmas.  This is a time of year when creativity really shines through and while there are so many things going on in-store, having something unique and visually appealing allows you to stand out from the crowd. I must say there have been some great ones across Sainsbury’s stores this year

6. Festive Feasts

With research showing over a third of Millennials are yet to host Christmas dinner, due to a lack of confidence in the kitchen. We’ve seen retailers go the extra mile this year to provide innovation and simple easy to cook options, with a broader array of food options in stores than ever before. From bao buns to desserts, there is something for everyone. And it doesn’t stop there: this year has seen a rise in plant-based and no/low-alcohol products so that everyone can join in on the fun – my personal favourite being Sainsbury’s No Beef Wellington.

7. The Advert Olympics

As always, the hype over who has the best Christmas advert is still bigger than ever. There’s been a real mixed bag this year, from Kevin the Carrot making his return for Aldi, Snapper the flytrap becoming the new mascot for John Lewis to Tesco’s “bizarre” Christmas offering. Plus, we’ve seen a whole host of celebrities hit our screens this Christmas advert season from Graham Norton, Rick Astley and Hannah Waddingham to Michael Bublé, the Canadian King of Christmas himself.

Iceland this year did something different and chose not to do a Christmas ad at all, focusing more on investing in cheaper prices for its customers this festive season

The Christmas Mascots

With the Christmas adverts come the iconic mascots, and what has been interesting this year is that more retailers have been creating accompanying merchandise, from M&S with their Colin the Caterpillar and Percy Pig merch to Waitrose and John Lewis pushing out Snapper-themed totes and teddies. Not forgetting Argos’s own iconic duo of Connie and Trevor!

8. Shopping for longer

A tradition that is still kicking it in 2023 is the extended shopping hours that are offered by some retailers on the lead up to Christmas. Late-night shopping events and extended hours cater to consumers that enjoy the in-store experience or have busy schedules – once again, appealing to the ultimate customer experience.

9. Online Shopping and E-Commerce

The holiday season has steadily seen a shift in the way people shop for Christmas, as more and more people each year have chosen to do their big Christmas shop from the comfort of their own home. This has increased the pressure on online customer experience just as much as it has in-store – look up any major retailer online and you’ll find some form of festive shop on their website with all their Christmas offers.

10. A Nectar360 Christmas

At Nectar360, we are passionate about helping the brands we work with.

 We believe that crafting meaningful activations for customers at Christmas is essential and so we use highly targeted, brandable and creative channels to make sure our clients stand out. Our in-store digital screens provide a dynamic platform for brands to showcase their products, engage customers and infuse the holiday spirit directly into the shopping experience.

Additionally, our ecommerce propositions help brands serve up a generous dose of Christmas excitement on the food and drink pages.

This Christmas, everyone seems to have their own spin on things, and it’s been good to see. There’s been a mix of traditions and fresh ideas, making the season feel more diverse and interesting. It’s always exciting to see how this changes and evolves each year. But the big question still remains: who will win in the retail space this Christmas?

Germaine Evans

Group Client Director – Non Food

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