Boxing Day and January sales have long been the lynchpin of the retail calendar, but the retail environment in the UK today is far from predictable.

Pre-Christmas sales events have been imported from the U.S., while the ubiquity of ecommerce has led some to question what relevance seasonal sales can even have if consumers are primed to look for deals online all year round.

Amid the uncertainty, one thing is clear – insight is vital to understanding where Boxing Day and January sales fit within the holiday season, and the year as a whole.

Here are 3 discoveries from our latest research on the topic, taken from a recent custom survey on UK shoppers. 

1. Black Friday has overtaken Boxing Day.

The most important thing to know about Boxing Day sales is they’re not what they once were. Black Friday has knocked it off its perch as the biggest sales event of the year, even though it’s only emerged in the UK in the past decade.

Black Friday

This is true for every generation, from Gen Z up to baby boomers.

It’s likely Black Friday has led consumers to focus more on pre-Christmas than post-Christmas spending, and provided a focal point for end-of-year purchases.

It’s a finding that tallies with the Official for National Statistics, which has reported retail sales in November overtaking those from December in recent years.  

Though they’re not quite at the pinnacle anymore, January sales are still relevant – they’re just in a more crowded marketplace.

Especially for younger users, it now jostles with other online-based sales events much more. Cyber Monday (32%) and Amazon Prime Day (28%) are in the mix with Boxing Day and January sales (40%) for the youngest UK internet users.

To properly meet consumers’ deal-seeking habits, more parts of the year have to be looked at. Analyzing the differences between shoppers gives much-needed clues into what a successful targeting strategy might look like at this time of year.

One of our more intriguing findings was how different genders approach sales shopping. 

Men tend to do more pre-planning before they shop, while women tend to be more spontaneous. 

2. Christmas Day is a shopping day too – for some.

For all the shopping done before and after it, Christmas Day has traditionally been reserved as the day to avoid spending money.

In 2004, the UK government introduced the Christmas Day Trading Act, preventing large retailers from opening on December 25th, after they had increasingly tested the waters of Christmas opening in the decade prior.

As with opposition to Sunday trading in the early 90s, keeping the day “special” was the ultimate aim. Ecommerce has blown this out of the water, making it possible to shop online at any time, on any given day. 

This festive season, 1 in 5 UK internet users think they will shop online on December 25th itself. 

For the days after Christmas, gift-swapping in 2020 is already front-of-mind, as 30% of sales shoppers plan to pick up presents for next year’s festivities, making them more popular to buy than jewelry and accessories (27%) or home and furniture products (25%). 

But who exactly goes online to buy on Christmas Day?

Our research shows this group of shoppers skews young and affluent, and almost two-thirds of them are male.

It’s tempting to see it as a unique day for marketing and outreach, but we should offer a word of caution. While young, affluent, males are generally more comfortable with shopping on Christmas Day, it provoked a deeply polarized reaction in our research. 

Feelings toward Xmas shopping

Just over half of UK internet users said they would not be at all likely to shop online during December 25th. It suggests a considerable portion of the market would react negatively to marketing around that date, so messaging should be carefully targeted and tailored.

We should also consider the warning signs of a potential backlash to online shopping that have crept in toward the end of this year, with both The Guardian and the New York Times writing long pieces on ecommerce logistics that hint a change in attitudes could be around the corner. 

3. Online and offline are neck-and-neck. 

If there’s a cliché of any sales event, whether Black Friday or Boxing Day, it’s shoppers jostling in the aisles to grab bargains before anyone else. 

Online and offline

Online has again disrupted this, providing an opt-out to crowded shops and shopping centres. This season, online and offline are set to be neck-and-neck

Two-thirds of sales shoppers will go online, either directly to a retailer’s website or to a multi-brand retailer like Amazon, and the same number will venture to the stores.

We can split these online and offline shoppers into groups, and figure out what makes the high street or the living room the more appealing place to do some shopping.

Skipping the infamous queues is the third most popular reason to shop online (49%), behind browsing a larger selection of items and a greater sense of comfort from shopping at home (both 54%).

The latter in particular gives an idea of the impact weather can have on sales. It’s easy to imagine how the comfort of shopping online, as much as its practical advantages, can be appealing if the weather outside turns treacherous.

In any case, digital can’t be overlooked as a sales channel for the New Year period. 

How to navigate the sales aisles

The guiding hand behind almost all the trends we’ve covered here is, of course, ecommerce.

Not only has it introduced new kinds of sale events, it’s also fragmented shoppers to the extent that while some would never consider buying on Christmas Day, others see it as a new kind of shopping experience.

That brings challenges, but also underlines the importance of identifying and targeting the right audiences in the right way.

Each shopper has their own priority dates for deal-seeking through the year, and a unique approach to it.

While we can safely assume Black Friday will be a fixture in retail for some time, and online isn’t going anywhere, understanding some of the idiosyncrasies between consumers outlined here will help inform the right marketing strategies for the sales season. 

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