Christmas has been with us for over two centuries, in one form or another. It may be tempting then, for some of us to imagine that we are as familiar with the occasion as we possibly can be. But Christmas is changing and nowhere is this change more evident than in the world of shopping. The ways we get our Christmas presents from the manufacturer to the foot of our Christmas Trees is being utterly transformed. Some of these changes are obvious, others may take you by surprise. This article will run through a selection of them.
In America, Black Friday refers to the day after Thanksgiving, in which stores throughout the country offer enormous discounts on certain goods in order to entice customers into their stores. There are several competing theories about how this day acquired its ominous title. The most plausible theory is that the term originated in Philadelphia, where it became an informal term among the police, who had begun to notice the annual problems with crowd control. Another theory lies with the practice among retailers of making a loss for the majority of the year and then a profit over the Christmas period. Accountants used to record profits using black ink and losses using red (hence the indebted are said to be ‘in the red’); the first day of profit making was therefore said to be ‘Black Friday’.
Whatever its origin, Black Friday is steeped in controversy and has been blamed for a number of violent incidents – even a few deaths! Particularly notorious are so-called ‘doorbuster’ deals, so called because they are so tempting that people will enter the building in such numbers that the door might break. When this term was first coined, it was intended to be figurative – now it is quite literally true that people are ready to break down doors in order to acquire cut-price consumer goods.
Though we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK, we have managed to import Black Friday, along with the accompanying scenes of vast crowds trampling on another to death for the sake of a cheap television.
Black Friday is actually seeing a fall in popularity in the states, with overall sales slumping by 11%, and the average shopper spending 6.4% less than they did last year. Experts attribute this fall to the slow strengthening on the US economy; consumers are in a stronger financial position and so less reliant on seeking bargains – and certainly less willing to brave hostile, sometimes violent crowds in order to do so. The growth figures announced in George Osbourne’s 2014 autumn statement would indicate that, should this theory hold any merit, this trend will be reflected on this side of the Atlantic.
Baby Boomers are not as organised
You could be forgiven for thinking that younger people would be far less organised when it comes to buying Christmas presents; after all, they’ve had far less practice at it. However, research released by The Logic Group points to an entirely different – and baffling – conclusion. When it comes to last-minute shopping, it is actually the over 45s who lead the way.
According to a survey of just over a thousand UK consumers, 16-24 year olds were the most organised out of everyone, with 44% of them buying a gift before December had even begun. Baby boomers, on the other hand, were the exact opposite, with just under a third claiming not to do any shopping until the very last week before Christmas.
The researchers also found that younger people were more willing to queue for longer in order to obtain their Christmas shopping. Over 55s were said to have the least patience – willing to wait for a mere 10 minutes, while their younger counterparts were willing to wait twice as long. This lack of patience was also reflected in the amount of time each demographic spent shopping online, with baby boomers shopping online for just over four hours, while millennials spent more than six.
The world of communication technology has undergone something of a revolution over the past century and in the past decade this change has accelerated exponentially. The internet has made it possible for us to place orders without ever leaving our houses; the development of the smartphone has broadened the possibilities to an even greater extent.
The increased power being crammed into each successive generation of mobile devices has only facilitated this transition. We are taking advantage of this technological progress and are accordingly willing to do our Christmas shopping online.
We are slowly abandoning our desktop machines – and even our laptops, in favour of more portable, touchscreen-based solutions. And why not? Shopping is not a task that relies on a great deal of typing; shoppers need only navigate to their desired object and buy it and retailers need only design a website optimised toward mobile devices in order to facilitate this. The rollout of 4G means that people are better equipped to do their Christmas shopping from their mobile device on the go – a state of affairs that was inconceivable a decade ago.
Is there anything particularly shocking about that? Doesn’t everyone already know and expect this change? While it’s true to say that this change was predicted, what is surprising is the rate at which it occurs in different countries.
While this trend is worldwide, we in the UK are at its forefront. According to findings by RetailMeNot, in the UK we are particularly willing to do our shopping online, with 67% of Brits doing their shopping on the internet – second only to swedes, who are on 71%. This is in stark contrast with buying habits in Mediterranean nations, such as Spain and Italy, where the figure respectively lies at 32% and 20%.
As well as being used as a means to do our Christmas shopping, mobile devices feature increasingly in the shopping itself, with tablet devices accounting for 7% of the computer devices exchanged on Christmas, rising from 4% in the previous year. It is hard to doubt that this trend will continue.