Miracle on Christmas high streets: how retailers can compete against eCommerce this winter

It’s no secret that Christmas is a very valuable time for retailers. With presents needed for family; mouths needing to be fed copious amounts of food throughout December; and houses needing to be transformed into festive paradises, there’s a lot that needs buying in the run up to the holidays.

It’s no secret that Christmas is a very valuable time for retailers. With presents needed for family and friends; mouths needing to be fed copious amounts of food throughout December; and houses needing to be transformed into festive paradises, there’s a lot of stuff that needs buying in the run up to the holidays. And with all the good cheer that’s going around, and Christmas bonuses a mainstay of many jobs, people are freer than usual with their spending.

Between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, a reported £12 billion was spent—a record high. Analysts noted that shopper numbers were down, but that individual shoppers were spending more.

The winter months on the whole, have been booming. The Office for National Statistics, reported that spending increased throughout December by 1.4% when compared to the year before, and that shopping for Christmas has “shifted in recent years from being mainly in December to more November as consumers seem to be starting their purchasing earlier in line with Black Friday promotions.”

It can be shopping mayhem on the UK’s main retail streets over the festive period: an amazing opportunity to be attracting attention

When it comes to making these purchases, it may be that consumers are never more engaged than in the run up to Christmas. Our recent Christmas Media Consumption report found that 57% of consumers find inspiration for Christmas gifts by window shopping and perusing the high street.

A further 47% get their ideas from Christmas adverts on TV, and 42% of us pay attention to the recommendations of their friends, family and colleagues.

It’s a particularly important time, then, to be providing a very merry in-store experience. Everything from window displays, to free samples, to the music you’re playing can make a Christmas browsing trip feel special. And when so many people dart into shops to avoid the cold, it can even be an opportunity to convert people who only stumbled upon your brand by chance, to new customers.

Making every part of your Christmas customer experience that bit special can have a huge impact on your sales for the festive period, as well as longer lasting brand awareness and sentiment.

Read on to discover 4 tips and tricks for giving consumers a Christmas to remember…

1. Curate

Physical retailers simply can’t compete with online stores when it comes to choice. So why try? Instead, become a trusted destination when you take much of the hard work out of shopping, by only presenting the best to your customers. You could quite easily save them hours and hours of fretting over reviews this way.

While some of us love the run up to Christmas, it can be quite stressful for those who don’t have present ideas up their sleeve. Sometimes no matter how well you know someone, it can be a struggle to guess what they’d like to appear in their stocking. What’s more, many people who go shopping for presents aren’t going to be accustomed to shopping in the shops their loved ones like (think kids trying to buy the right perfume, or parents trying to second guess teenage fashion trends).

The more you can use your staff’s expertise to illuminate and simplify your shop, the better. Ensure, in the run up to Christmas, that everyone on the shop floor is well-trained on the basics (store layout, sizing etc) as well as being able to help with broader questions about what sort of gifts people could buy for their loved ones.

It might be a good idea to display gift-buying guides, or present suggestions. Alternatively, mix-and-match boxes where customers can choose several items to be gift wrapped together as a complete present, can make the whole process seem less stressful.

Make Christmas gift choosing as easy as you can with a helpful shop floor features, like price-sorted gift sets

In our recent interview with Charlie Mayfield, the chairman of John Lewis—many people’s Christmas shopping destination of choice—we discovered just how much goes into make the JL shopping experience as enjoyable as it can be for shoppers.

“You can get good quality women’s clothing now without having to go into a shop. So if you’ve taken the trouble to come into a shop, you need to be getting something extra. The shop assistants, and the interactions you have need to be adding to the experience of buying that product. It’s no longer enough just to produce quality products. “

“One thing we do that’s different from other businesses to incentivise partners to create a great customer experience, is that no one works on commission. So in John Lewis, no one’s ever going to try to sell you that specific computer if it’s the most expensive one, any more than they’re going to try to sell you another, less expensive version. Because there’s no personal financial incentive. It means that the John Lewis experience is about matching the right products with people, rather than selling them the most expensive thing.”

Go back to your shop floor and see it through fresh eyes. If you sell perfume, imagine you’re someone who’s never bought scent before. Think about all the hurdles they might encounter, and make sure your staff are well briefed on how best to go about making them from flustered browsers, to proficient customers over the Christmas period.

These are the kinds of expertise you simply can’t get browsing online, and they can really help differentiate a high street retailer from online stores.

2. Build an experience

Be it something as extravagant as a magical Christmas grotto (Selfridges, 2011), or something a simple as festive coffee cups, if you can make Christmas shopping with you an experience, people are both more likely to enjoy it, and remember it.

This is a particularly choice opportunity for brands who are usually online only. After our research found that most people get their Christmas inspiration from browsing in person, you don’t want to miss out on customers at the first hurdle, where those all-important first impressions are formed.

Even Not On The High Street is going against its brand name, and descending directly onto the Christmas brick-and-mortar scene with two pop-ups this year. (Oh, the irony.)

Not only will their best stocking fillers be available to pick up there and then, but they will have live personalisation and ticketed workshops.

Chief commercial and marketing officer, Ella d’Amato explained the motivation behind the choice to craft an experience:

“We hope it will help our customers to understand the work of the 5,000 creative small businesses that sell through Notonthehighstreet by bringing their stories to life and demonstrating their passion for creativity in a way which it can be hard to appreciate when you’re browsing online.”

Other brands craft their experience as something more than just shopping. This year, French drinks brand St-Germain is opening a wintry bar in Covent Garden. There will be hands-on classes hosted by cooks, florists, and cocktail masters drawing people in off the streets to learn things like how to make a Christmas wreath.

If you’d prefer to simply be helpful, gift wrapping stations or in-store children’s entertainment can both make the experience of the Christmas bustle more bearable for shoppers.

Ultimately, these are all experiences and helpful little touches that either help you stand out from an online-only retail experience, or start to match it’s convenience.

3. Gather unique data

The great thing about Christmas shopping is that it happens every year, which gives brands an annual opportunity to do things even better than before.

It’s advisable to collect as much data as you can this festive period, so that you can better craft your offering for the years to come.

Point of sale is a good place to start, but it really is only the beginning. If you can, monitor footfall data from devices, and sync this with online purchases. H&M have recently introduced an app so that instore and online purchases will be tracked and tied to the individuals who made them. Since so many people browse in-store, before going home to order the products they saw online, it’s an excellent idea to work out what store experience is trickling into online sales.

The H&M club app will let you carry on browsing what you looked at in-store from your phone once you’ve left the shop

In-store or follow up surveys are also recommended. If you want to find out the motivations behind why people shopped the way they did, consider launching a survey with Attest to dive deeper into how they interacted with your store over Christmas.

And don’t wait to do a post-mortem either. All these data points can only tell what has happened. Get ahead of the curve by asking consumers about the gifts they’re most excited about, what might stop them from venturing out onto the high street, what kinds of offers would help you stand out… the list goes on.

Anything that gives you a competitive edge in this billion pound shopping frenzy is worth a small upfront investment now, so you don’t rue the missed opportunities come the dreaded Q1 earnings call.

4. Don’t forget your brand

Finally, be sure that consumers remember where they got that fabulous present from! In these days of contactless transactions, and almost-brandless ordering of products on Amazon, it’s quite possible to become forgettable. Christmas shopping is often a rush: it has to be done quickly and efficiently, so you only have a limited time to stand out.

The above steps will help you with this, but you also need to think about the transaction as just a small part of your relationship with customers. Consistent branding across more than just your website, shop, or pop-up can help with building a meaningful relationship.

Christmas lends itself well to this, since it’s a time so associated with storytelling and relationships. Christmas adverts are more loved than promotions l we see throughout the rest of the year: we found that 57% of people recommend their favourite Christmas adverts to their friends and family.

John Lewis’s Moz the Monster advert received 10.4 million views

You might struggle with digital competitors to win on performance marketing or SEO, but by focusing on building a more meaningful relationship across various different touchpoints (radio, out of home advertising, or tv, for instance) you can build longer-term trust and loyalty that pays dividends over time.

Next Steps

If you would like to speak to consumers about their dream Christmas shopping experience—do live bands playing in-store carols make their hearts sing, or drive them up the wall? Would a mince pie at the till make transform them into year-round customers?—then get in touch. Think of Attest as Santa’s little helpers for all your retail needs.

We can give you access to thousands of people about to embark on their Christmas shopping, to help you craft the perfect festive ad, email campaign, or pop-up.


Content Team 

Our in-house marketing team is always scouring the market for the next big thing. This piece has been lovingly crafted by one of our team members. Attest's platform makes gathering consumer data as simple and actionable as possible.

See all articles by Attest