Easter in lockdown: What will it look like for retailers?

As the UK’s first bank holiday weekend in lockdown approaches, what does a stay-at-home Easter look like for Britain?

It’s the time of year when retailers are usually trying to flog chocolate eggs and hot cross buns, hopeful Brits are praying for hot (or at least dry) weather for the bank holiday weekend, and marketers are scrambling to come up with the best Easter-related puns.

But with the closure of all non-essential stores and people being told by the government to stay indoors, this is not going to be a normal Easter Weekend for anybody in the UK.

Springboard, which provides insights on bricks and mortar retail activity, says the four-day bank holiday weekend will be “unrecognisable” in what is usually the second most important trading period of the year, after Christmas.

Gatherings and celebrations will be limited by lockdown rules. Barbecues, big family meals and Easter egg hunts that involve more than one household are  off the cards and this means people will be spending less than they normally would.

But this doesn’t mean people can’t, or do not want to, enjoy the Easter weekend.

“Families and those that are interested in celebrating Easter will do so; it’s a chance to do something different on the bank holiday weekend,” says Kantar’s head of retail and consumer insight, Fraser McKevitt.

“But of course there aren’t going to be any big family gatherings, which is where people really splash out on those things. Particularly, if the weather’s nice over the weekend, in a normal year you would expect to see BBQ sales rising. These are a very social experience rather than a small family unit. That will be tough this year.”

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Tough but not impossible, with the likes of Zoom, FaceTime and Houseparty increasingly facilitating virtual gatherings, which have become exponentially more popular since the lockdown came into place, and pubs and restaurants were forced to close.

According to Kantar, this ‘new normal’ has fuelled a 22% year on year increase in alcohol sales. Waitrose, meanwhile, has reported a 53% increase in sales of rose winé and says customers appear to be preparing for a weekend spent at least partially outside.

“With temperatures set to break the 20⁰C barrier and as the nation gets used to spending time at home, Waitrose & John Lewis are predicting this weekend will be a bumper barbecue weekend,” the retailer said in a strangely toned email, given the circumstances.

While the Easter Bunny is going to be incredibly busy in New Zealand now it has been declared a key worker by its prime minister, in the UK, the intake of chocolate eggs will likely be more subdued after a bumper 2019.

This is partly because the Easter weekend is slightly earlier this year meaning there is less time to sell them, but also because Easter egg sales are often impulse purchases and the gifting element has been removed this year.

“People see the lovely in-store display, great price, put a few in their basket, might come back next week and do the same,” McKevvit says. “What I would expect is with people not seeing family and friends the gifting element of giving Easter eggs will be much reduced and they’re not particularly postable items.

“Retailers are still going to be keen to sell them because the volumes have been ordered well in advance and they wouldn’t have anticipated this and they need to shift their stock.”

Retailers’s priorities have shifted too as they focus on keeping shelves stocked with staple items to keep up with consumer demand. As a result, the number of Easter-related confectionery products out of stock in UK supermarkets has more than doubled to 24.6%, compared to the same week before Easter Sunday in 2019 when it was just 11.4%, according to data from Edge by Ascential.

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In the week ending 5 April 2020, availability of Easter confectionery products, including Easter eggs, was around 75.4%, compared to 88.6% in stock during the same week before Easter Sunday in 2019. This level of unavailability is equal to the levels seen three days before Easter last year.

Beyond chocolate and barbecues, this is also usually a pivotal period for clothes retailers as they launch their spring/summer ranges. With all bricks and mortar clothes retailers shut and consumers being encouraged to shop responsibly online, this will be a tough period for many.

Footfall across UK retail bricks and mortar destinations declined by 75.1% in the week beginning 22 March and by 81.4% last week, according to Springboard.

“Easter is a key trading period on the retail calendar for bricks and mortar destinations, and so its impact on the overall performance of the year as a whole cannot be overestimated,” says the company.

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