Which seasonal trends are shoppers backing in 2019?

By Will Gillingham

Believe it or not, the ecommerce calendar is populated by more than Black Friday. Now don’t get us wrong: November’s discounting frenzy still retains pride of place on the retail mantelpiece (even if its reach could be ebbing slightly), but it shouldn’t be allowed to blot out the other seasonal events which could still represent an attractive uptick for retailers at other times of the year.

Shifting weather patterns, changing customer appetites, and a new generation of buyers are changing the state of the game. Shoppers are doubling down on certain types of products at certain times of the year, and it’s up to retailers to prepare for this surge in activity and amplify their sales where they can.

So, which seasonal trends should retailers be aware of this year? We looked at our own data and reached out to experts in the field for their insight, and in this blog we’ll outline a few of the alternative seasonal opportunities for retailers (outside of Black Friday).

The Easter Effect

Easter’s a bit of an unusual retail event. Its fluctuating date not only skews sales trackers, but has also been proven to affect shopper behaviour (with shifting Easter dates exerting an impact on YoY comparisons). However, for Home & Garden retailers, it’s one of the most important dates in the year.

This is evidenced by the IMRG Capgemini eRetail Sales Index. At the beginning of 2019, the Home & Garden sector was reporting strong year-on-year growth (10.2% in January followed by 25.7% in February). However, the sector was considerably stunted in March, posting a flattened 1.6% uplift. And there’s a credible correlation with the dip: Easter.

In 2018, Easter straddled both March and April, and so it had some sway over March’s sales figures. With Easter falling entirely in April this year (and combined with an unseasonably warm weekend at that), all those family barbecues, Easter-egg hunts, and general sun-lounging activity occurred outside of March. While at the time of writing, April’s figures have yet to be revealed, there’s a good chance that the Home & Garden sector may have seen an impressive resurgence across 2019’s Easter weekend.

For other sectors, however, the late Easter is unlikely to have been as kind. This is according to data from Summit, who have found that the later date doesn’t simply redistribute sales: it loses some along the way.

Isabel Harrison-Hall, Performance Consulting Director, Summit: ‘We used market demand data across the last 15 years to understand the impact that a late Easter has on annual demand for Sporting Goods and Home & Garden products. It is easy to assume that the demand merely gets reapportioned to elsewhere in the year but that is not what we found.

Summit data

‘This graph shows that nearly every sub-category within those categories will see a negative impact on their annual demand as a result of a late Easter. So why is this? Retailers don’t benefit so much from the Mayday Bank Holiday as it occurs so closely after Easter. The Spring/Summer ranges don’t go as obviously into stores or online and the continued sale of winter goods lasts longer. This means retailers may start to panic and launch discounts early to avoid ending the season with warehouses full of stock.

‘When we looked at the historic sales figures for a specific retailer selling these categories, we calculated an £8m growth opportunity across Sporting Goods and Home & Garden and a total £15.1m incremental Spring opportunity as a result of Easter occurring two weeks earlier. (Not very helpful when we can’t influence the dates!)

‘Having looked at data from the past 15 years, an Easter occurring mid-way between “Early” (3rd week of March) and “Late” (3rd week of April) had the most overall positive impact on demand.’

It’s a pivotal moment in the year: a switch in fashion ranges, an influx of purchases for the Home & Garden sector, and, outside of retail, an event which many people across the country embrace and participate in some capacity.

Even with its alternating date, it’s a marked and ongoing period of shopper activity in the calendar. If you’re a retailer dealing in garden paraphernalia, this is certainly an event worth putting a red cross next to (if you haven’t already).


Valentine’s Blues

On the flipside of Easter’s ongoing potential for a boost to sales, Valentine’s Day is seeing something of a gradual boycott. Or, at least, it is when it comes to traditional gifting.

We looked all the way back to 2015 and compared the month-on-month rise in Gifts-sector sales from January to February for the last 5 years. And the resultant trend line reveals a perhaps surprising truth: Valentine’s gifting is dropping. While Gifts sales rose by 30.2% from January to February in 2015 (a stat likely fuelled by Valentine’s Day), there was only an uplift of 7.5% this year.

IMRG data 1

Boux Avenue have collated research on Valentine's Day searches on Google, and have seen a similar trend occurring: while Valentine’s Day was once a common search back in 2015, they have found a 55% reduction in Valentine’s-themed searches since then.

This stat perhaps equates to the modern ideology of experience over ownership. As reported by Forbes earlier this year, Millennials in particular are valuing the idea of memories being made rather than material items being possessed.

However, Maginus argue this move away from tradition isn’t one worth worrying about. Gavin Masters, Industry Principal, Maginus: ‘Whilst consumers are claiming to be wise to the “commercialisation” of holidays like Valentine’s Day (and, to a degree, Easter), they are still spending money in retail, albeit in slightly different ways.

‘Whether consumers are cooking a home-made meal instead of dining out at an expensive restaurant, or buying hand-crafted sentiments from Etsy instead of over-priced flowers, they are still contributing to the overall retail industry. Thus, retail as a whole isn’t likely to suffer from boycotts of “traditional” products. Retailers do, however, need to become wiser about the range and type of products that the consumer is likely to want to pick up during these periods, which is changing and likely to continue to do so.

Whether people are opting for date night over gifting or simply just departing from the tradition altogether, data seems to point towards Valentine’s as a seasonal event which may be going through a process of transition in terms of how people spend their money.


The Growing Reach of 11/11

Previously known as ‘Singles’ Day’, this Asian sales event is the world’s number one shopping day. Its penetration in the UK is low (and is expected to remain so) as the day centres on 11th November: Armistice Day. However, it’s an event with a colossal buyer engagement, and is fast expanding its global reach, connecting Asian customers around the world through the shopping platform AliExpress.

Alecxa Julia Cristobal of AsiaPay notes how, last year, Lazada brought 11/11 (pronounced ‘double-eleven’) to Singapore through an engaging social media campaign: Actual shopping might help you firmly decide on what gifts you should buy, but it is also time-consuming. Nowadays, customers are likely to browse digitally for the sake of convenience, if nothing else. In recognition of this, Lazada’s 11/11 sales marketing campaign has been prevalent on social media, where ads on videos and banners are used. With the rise of e-markets and their persistent online sales, consumers can keep an eye on seasonal trends without leaving their houses.’

For any UK retailers looking to establish a presence in China (or, indeed, seem to have an active Oriental customer demographic), this event should be viewed of at least equal importance as Black Friday, and is worth being aware of even if that’s not the case. Just don’t expect it to take-off in Britain with the same amount of gusto as Black Friday did back in 2014.


Basking in the Sun

While not a specific event, there’s a maxim which underpins much of the research conducted at IMRG: when the sun’s out, people spend.

2018’s heatwave had a rippling effect on the UK’s online retail market: it pulled purchases forward out of the summer months and into May, which led to early spikes in sector growth. This is most prominent in the Footwear sector, which had a tremendous surge in May (with people presumably swapping their boots for sandals).

IMRG data 2

What is also worthy of mention here is that summer is the season of weddings and music festivals. Alongside the sizeable uplift in summer clothing purchases caused by the heat, retailers who sell products which could fall into the categories of wedding or festival attire would do well to cater to these groups as well.

eBay have previously seen a massive upscale in search volumes for wedding clothing in June, and festivals (particularly Glastonbury) are notoriously rainy affairs. Highlighting light blouses beside regal gowns, or sandals beside wellies, is a recommended summer strategy for retailers with the means (and wares) to do so.


International Friendship Day

There’s one last date for the retail calendar which is perhaps the wild card of the group, and yet nevertheless has potential: International Friendship Day.

Courtney Wylie, VP of Product & Marketing at Mention Me, explains why: ‘At Mention Me we predict that 2019 will see savvy retailers planning more activity around International Friendship Day on July 30th. Officially named by the United Nations, the day is designed to harness the power of friendship to promote peace across cultures and nations. In some Asian countries, especially in India it is already celebrated widely. Social media platforms have enabled this day to be easily celebrated, championed and communicated online globally. At Mention Me we predict that this year that UK retailers will plan more activity around this, capitalising on the goodwill that it promotes.

‘The timing is right for a hook in retail’s calendar celebrating sharing, support and love, offering a backlash against the more money focussed spending frenzies that are Black Friday and Amazon Prime Day (also anticipated for July). Further to this, research shows that consumers value the opinion of a friend or family member more than any other source of information when making a buying decision.

‘Promoting Friendship Day also offers a positive message for retailers trying to retain some share of voice in the face of Amazon’s July push. Just a few of the many brands that have launched campaigns to celebrate -include Fox Star Hindi, Brand Factory, Dominos India, Cadbury, Dove and Vodafone.’

As Wylie notes, July is something of a sparse terrain in terms of promotional events which any retailer can get behind, and International Friendship Day (with the right engagement) may become the stepping stone between Easter and Black Friday. It’s perhaps one to keep an eye on.


In Summary

There are seasonal events throughout the year which, if retailers include them in their campaign planning, can represent year-round revenue flow.

While Valentine’s Day looks to be distancing itself from the traditional gift-sharing event it once was, Easter still represents the chance for a significant influx of engagement, particularly for Home & Garden retailers.

However, it’s summer where retailers can really double down on their seasonal strategising. The warm weather coupled with summertime activities such as weddings and music festivals opens up a smorgasbord of opportunity for retailers in a variety of product categories. With further potential lying in International Friendship Day, it’s summer which could give discerning retailers a much-needed rejuvenation before the countdown to Black Friday begins.

Will Gillingham, Content Manager, IMRG

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