Is Christmas Cancelled? How To Navigate Marketing Plans This Holiday Season 

2020 - What a year... 

It’s fair to say 2020 was not the year that we were expecting. The global pandemic was a lot more devastating than we all originally imagined. Where we all thought the holiday season would hopefully be some sort of return to normality, unfortunately for most this wasn’t the case. Household’s couldn’t mix, the high street closed and Christmas 2020 was very different to any Christmas before. 

Fast forward a year and we are now in the run-up to the festive season once again. Nearly two years into living with the Covid pandemic there is a lot of apprehension and excitement - will Christmas 2021 be cancelled? Will we go back to some sort of normality? Or are we living in the new normal? 

Is Christmas Cancelled? How To Navigate Marketing Plans This Holiday Season :

Tradition is Back 

After the craziness of last year, it’s great to see that Christmas is back for 2021. Even with all the uncertainty of last year, sales weren’t hugely impacted and spending was on par with 2019. However, it’s not surprising that people feel like they lost a Christmas last year and want to make up for it this year. Sentiment shows that people have a newfound love for Christmas, with excitement to spend time with family and friends and ultimately spend money. 

According to studies, 35% of people want to see more festivity in advertising this year. Last year felt reserved as we were so unsure of what the future held for us - but having lived through it - for many people there is anticipation and excitement. And with that anticipation and excitement comes the desire to purchase. 

According to YouGov 1 in 14 people had already purchased presents for 2021 after Christmas 2020. Most people are looking to purchase their gifts in the next three months and many retailers revealed their Christmas plans even earlier this year in readiness. The race to shopping began yesterday, and retailers need to be ready! 

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As 2021 has unfolded so have the relaxing of national restrictions, as well as the rollout of vaccinations. Travel restrictions have also been loosened so there is definitely an air of newfound freedom about. 

Events have made a slow come back this year, with sports matches like Euro 2020 attracting huge crowds in stadiums and smaller gatherings at pubs and bars. These celebrations were probably the biggest seen in the last 18 months, and there was a real sense of togetherness. It is clear to see the public missed being out and about and congregating together, so when it comes to Christmas - there is the expectation that attitudes will be the same. 52% of UK adults say they will make the most of Christmas if there are no restrictions in place - so the general consensus is that people want to gather and celebrate together. 

Money Money Money… 

After a year of furlough and redundancies, the economy seemed pretty grim last year. However, it is surprising to note that spending last year was actually a lot better than first predicted. Retailers reported that around 60% met their sales targets for 2020, with 37% saying they were only slightly lower than forecast. 

2021, however, is set to be back with a bang. With many shoppers feeling like they missed out last year, they want to make up for the lost time. Around 61% of shoppers want to spend as much as last year, with 24% looking to increase their spending. Retailers are also optimistic about sales performances this year - with growth to be the same or more than 2019 levels. 

Shopping Is Digital 

With many high streets shut, and worries over mixing in crowded shops it’s unsurprising that online became the preferred method of shopping last year. A lot of older generations, that had previously never connected to the digital world, were forced to migrate to online purchasing - and now they aren’t looking back. The general consensus from the public is that internet shopping is a firm favourite and is here to stay.

Whilst we know the high street has re-opened and people have been enjoying perusing shelves in person, there is a sense that going into physical shops is risky. In the UK alone, 31% of shoppers have reduced their trips out, finding that going out to the shops was only necessary for essential items/reasons. 

From this, we have seen a major shift from combined shopping methods to primarily digital. Since the pandemic, we have seen a massive digital growth of 57% and an influx of new shoppers online (over 40%!). We can expect this Christmas to be the same, with people preferring to stick to online shopping due to ease, availability and safety. There is also an increasingly older demographic turning to digital, so advertising and marketing methods will need to take this generation into account when planning Christmas campaigns and outreach. 

Supply Chain Shortages 

In the wake of the pandemic, supply chains have been massively impacted. Brexit, lack of raw materials, staff shortages, increased transportation costs and COVID restrictions mean the demand is likely to outweigh the supply this year. With a more positive outlook on the festive season too, increased shopping and spending is likely to fuel this imbalance. 

To combat this shortfall, retailers are being advised to communicate early and clearly with their customers. However, it is looking likely that there will be late deliveries and increased demand closer to Christmas, with last-minute shopping set to be unavoidable for 2021 due to delayed deliveries.

Social Commerce 

Another trend that has massively spiked thanks to the pandemic is social commerce. Last year sales via the digital platform increased by a huge 95%. As people had less to do outside and spent more and more time on their phones, the need to grab shoppers attention and inspire quick purchases whilst they perused social media intensified. Instagram, Facebook and TikTok feeds can no longer be sites that showcase pretty pictures and videos - consumers want to be able to purchase at the click of a button, and without ever having to leave the site. 

A third of shoppers in the UK now purchase via social media sites directly, and with life returning to a state of normality this is only set to increase. People’s attention spans are waning, and where people used to enjoy perusing pages of products they now don’t have the time. So quick and easy to buy on social, is the way forward. 

User-Generated Content & Influencer Marketing 

With the rise of social media, we now have seen a massive increase in the popularity of influencers. There was a brief period where influencers weren’t trusted, but now advertising standards have been ironed out, they have been part and parcel of marketing campaigns. So much so that consumers are now turning away from brands that don’t produce user-generated content. A massive 37% of shoppers won’t go through with a purchase if a brand doesn’t feature user-generated content on their site. 

As also discovered above, people are now using social media as shopping sites. On Instagram, over 70% of people use the site for product discovery, and over on TikTok 67% of people agree that the site has helped them discover new brands and products. You only need to search the hashtag #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt to see it! A recent case study by Engage Hub saw brand HD Brows work on a TikTok campaign, for their new product Brow Glue. Working with carefully selected influencers in the make-up industry, the brand was able to create fun, usable content that advertised the product in a non-salesy way. 

As people move away from shopping in a physical sense, product sampling has become the way forward. Nearly half of consumers (48%) look on retailers pages specifically for user-generated content and this is only going to get bigger. Influencer marketing and social commerce go hand in hand, with over a third of people saying they trust what their favourite influencers have to say. 

We have also seen the benefit of influencer marketing in the last year, with the pandemic temporarily halting slick, stylised brand content. The burden fell to influencers to pick up the slack from home and to help create the missing content. Although the content looked noticeably different and definitely more homemade it actually felt more human - and people loved it. In fact, it seems like they want more of it. 83% of people believe that retailers need to be providing more authentic shopping experiences. Gone are the days where we see the same looking models grace our screens and magazines - diversity and relatability is now demanded and expected in campaigns.

Working with agencies can help you harness the power of influencers, as their expert knowledge can carefully align you with top content creators that will help maximise your campaigns. It’s a quick win way - and assured results over more traditional forms of media such as out of home or print. Gorillas, the on-demand grocery app recently worked with Engage Hub on an influencer marketing campaign. In just three weeks the brand saw engagement of 1.3 million, impressions of 1.2 million and a reach of 822k! This shows the benefit of influencer marketing, being really quick to turn around whilst still delivering amazing results. 

Values Are The New Black 

Pre-pandemic the world seemed to be on a real sustainable journey. Brands were more compelled to take action in their climate journey and consumers were holding those who didn’t comply accountable. Then Covid hit, and unfortunately, a lot of these actions were reversed. Single-use items became necessary and everyone’s plan to be green went out the window.

18 months down the line and we are now learning to live with the reality of COVID and accountability is back on everyone’s agenda. As a result of heightened awareness and media consumption people more than ever are aware, conscientious and empathetic. There is a newfound sense of responsibility and compassion towards their community and the planet as a whole. People want to know what brands’ social stances are - and shoppers are more often than not avoiding those that don’t make this information readily available. Two-thirds of consumers think this is important, and over 71% prefer buying from brands that align with their own values. 

This trend runs through into social media too, with accounts like Diet Prada and Saint Hoax among many others, gaining a massive following and huge fanbases thanks to their frank ability to call out brands and celebrities. Values are a huge trend and influencing the way people consume content, and ultimately their shopping habits. 

A Sustainable Christmas? 

Sustainability is on everyone’s mind, in particular influencing the younger generations. They are becoming less enamoured with fast fashion, and low prices and instead want to be making conscious decisions that have positive impacts. Half of 18-24-year-olds want to be more sustainable this Christmas - with many of them being intrigued by buying locally, recycling and upcycling gifts and utilising sustainable brands according to an IPA survey. 

But it’s not only the younger generation that is interested in becoming more sustainable. Over a quarter of over 45-year-olds want to become more sustainable this Christmas. With this in mind, it’s important that brands keep this in mind with their marketing and processes this year. Principles are at the heart of people’s buying motivations, so these need to be carefully considered so as not to alienate customers and ultimately lose sales.

What Have We Learnt? 

Christmas 2020 was a lot different to Christmas 2019 and people hated it. Whilst spending was thereabouts the same, we know that people are ready for a bigger and better Christmas - it’s time to celebrate! 

So in order for you to have the best Christmas for your brand or business, below are the top five takeaways from this report…

1. Back with a bang! 

Let’s go all out, have all the Christmas cheer, celebrate with friends and family and bring Christmas back with a bang.

2. Start Early 

Start communicating Christmas early on and get ahead whilst you can. Whilst last-minute shopping is likely to be inevitable this year, communicating early with your customers may save your reputation.

3. Digital First Execution 

Digital is where all the hyper-focus needs to be, across every audience group with a particular emphasis on social media.

4. Real content for real people 

Content from brands and influencers needs to be authentic, believable, UGC like and purposeful in adding value for consumers in facilitating their shopping journey.

5. Be the change!

Reflect elevated brand values through communication and action and be part of the positive change towards the community and planet at large. 

To find out more about influencer marketing, and how you can use it to maximise your brand’s potential this Christmas, click here. 

Author Bio


Sasha Osborn

Sasha Osborn is the Senior Marketing Executive at Engage Hub, leading the marketing team and marketing strategy for the agency. With an extensive background and knowledge in PR and Marketing, having worked both brand and agency side she has invaluable insights. Now working for Engage Hub, she works closely with the internal teams to push the agency to new levels.