All I want for Christmas is….

A new report shows that many of us feel we never get what we want for Christmas. David Benady looks at what retailers can do to help us out.

Nearly two thirds of consumers think Christmas has become too commercialised – but this does not stop them from spending an average of 75 on presents for their partners.

A new report by Mintel, Christmas Shopping Habits, shows that there is an alarming disparity between the types of presents people give and those they like to receive.

Items of clothing are the preferred type of gift, followed by perfume and aftershave. But music, books and jewellery are ranked higher than toiletries, drink and chocolates in terms of types of gifts people would like to get. Particularly low on the preference list are gift tokens, which feature quite high among the types of gifts bought.

Mintel concludes that retailers need to be far more forceful in suggesting gift ideas to shoppers. Using preference data to link shoppers with potential recipients can help people choose gifts that will be appreciated. Chocolates and bottles of drink would lose out, while music and books would be winners.

While 11 per cent of adults spend under 30 on their partners, over 30 per cent spend more than 75 and just under ten per cent spend more than 150.

But expenditure levels are much higher when it comes to children. Under 30 per cent of parents spend less than 75 per child while just over 30 per cent spend more than 150 per child. This averages out at about 120 per child.

The report shows that better off people tend to spend less on presents than those who are less well off.

An element of more affluent parents do not believe in making a big thing of Christmas in terms of spending.

Response rates among the under 75 per child category were as high among ABs as they were among Es.

Patterns of behaviour relating to the start of Christmas shopping vary, with as many as 22 per cent of adults claiming to begin their gift shopping before the end of September. But nearly 40 per cent state that they do not start until some time in December.

The early starters are mainly women and those from less affluent groups. The reason for this may be linked to the fact that 73 per cent of Christmas gifts are bought with cash, so those in less affluent households could have the greatest need to spread out the cost of Christmas over a longer period since it accounts for a higher proportion of their income.

Shoppers in the ABC1 group and the 25- to 34-year-old age group form the primary target for early shopping initiatives by retailers.

They are unlikely to be the most responsive to late opening evenings and form an important and high spending target group for retailers, such as department stores, which are able to offer the right ambience for encouraging early shopping.

Evidence from trade respondents indicated that 1996 was exceptionally late due to a combination of economic factors and the tim ing of the Christmas holiday itself. Opinion was mixed as to whether there is a longer term trend towards later shopping. Retailers ack-nowledged that there are greater time pressures on shoppers these days, but while that was a reason for getting them interested earlier, it can also act as a deterrent to early shopping. Clearly shopping needs vary considerably in this regard.

Mintel says that Christmas 1997 is likely to the best for a number of years for retailers.

Falling unemployment and the feelgood factor from windfalls suggest that most sectors of retailing will be doing well this year.

The researchers also suggest that Christmas shopping will take off a little earlier than last year. Christmas Day falls on a Thursday this year, giving ample time for last minute shopp-ing on Christmas Eve.

Retailers offering the key types of gift purchased can expect to do well this year, especially those in high streets and town centres. Mintel says that Woolworths, Boots, WH Smith and Argos have these factors in their favour and are likely to be winners among the retail sector this Christmas.

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