With the holiday season swinging into gear, retailers will be hoping the UK public celebrate by opening up their wallets for the biggest consumer event on the calendar. While it’s been a difficult couple of years for retailers, consumers have proven resilient during the festive period with significant spending.

The latest data suggests UK shoppers could be ready to spend big once again this year. In this article, we look at the key insights into consumer attitudes from Google Search and other sources – and how they can inform your search marketing strategy for the holiday season.

Interest for retail in the UK is up 24%

According to search data from Google, overall interest in retail searches is up by +24% from November 2019 and growing by +0.4% week-on-week. This marks a -1.7% drop from the Covid bounceback in November 2020 but the numbers are impressive considering the current inflation rate in the UK.

Last year, a majority of UK shoppers said they expected to spend more for Christmas 2020 than previous years, too.

The data suggests consumers are ready to spend big this Christmas but purchase decisions could look very different. While Covid-19 spurred a wave of home and garden improvements, searches are down by -12.9% from 2020 and consumer electronics even more, by -13%.

The biggest increases are in apparel searches (+16.2%) and health searches (+7.3%) as consumer interests change. It seems people are, once again, more interested in looking their best and this is supported by beauty searches being up by +14.3% from November 2019.

UK consumer confidence increases in November 2021

In 2020, the UK public defied concerns over Christmas spending, providing a much-needed boost to the economy during the most challenging year in modern times. Once again, the British people are gearing up for the unexpected, by the looks of the most recent consumer confidence report from Market Watch.

Despite inflation rising to a 10-year high of 4.2%, consumer confidence has actually risen in November, to minus 14 from minus 17 in October.

This means consumer confidence is higher than expected and significantly higher than last year when the UK was facing lockdown restrictions and the potential of Christman being “cancelled”.

While the UK economy is clearly losing momentum and the rebound from easing restrictions earlier this year is fading, the public continues to show its resolve when it comes to retail spending.

UK among the top countries for eCommerce penetration

Consumer surveys show that over the past two weeks, UK consumers have done 34% of their shopping online, retaining their place as one of the top markets for eCommerce penetration.

In fact, declines in other markets mean the UK is currently the top country in the Western world for online shopping, showing resilience for online spending even after the economy opened up.

Bar chart showing where people in various countries are doing there shopping - online versus in store

The UK was already the top country in Europe for eCommerce penetration before the pandemic but many nations have experienced a decline as economies opened up this year. However, shoppers in the UK continue to spend big online and Google data shows a dramatic increase in UK shoppers planning their purchases online before they visit stores.

From the 61% of shopping carried out in retail stores over the past two weeks, 60% of shoppers made a prepared list before visiting stores after researching purchase ideas online. As a result, 16% of consumers in the country say they discovered new brands or stores while researching online for purchase inspiration.

YouTube a major channel for purchase inspiration

According to a 2020 consumer survey by Talk Shoppe, YouTube is an established channel for purchase inspiration in the UK.

Here’s a summary of some of the key stats:

  • 34% of UK viewers use YouTube to see a product demo before buying
  • 33% of UK viewers say YouTube is the place to find out more about brands, products or services
  • 29% of UK YouTube viewers make an online purchase after watching a video
  • 19% of UK YouTube viewers make an offline purchase after watching a video

The same survey reveals 51% of UK viewers have made a purchase after seeing an ad on YouTube with the highest conversion rates being tech (19%) and home (13%) vs the average 12%.

Christmas lights drive an increase in high-street footfall

Footfall across UK retail destinations rose by 1.5% in the week starting November 8 with the switching on of Christmas lights throughout the week attributed to the rise. Even higher jumps were seen on Friday, November 12, which is a popular day for many cities to switch on their Christmas displays, resulting in an 11.7% increase in footfall across UK high streets.

High streets and shopping centres benefited most from the increased footfall while retail parks experienced significantly lower increases and, sometimes, declines from the previous week. The slump for retail parks is also attributed to the switching on of Christmas lights and displays, most of which take place in city centres, retail high streets and shopping centres.

The overall increase in footfall could provide an early indicator that shoppers in the UK are geared up for a busy period of festive shopping.

While this is hardly conclusive, it’s a positive sign when interest in retail searches are also up +23.9% from 2019 and consumer confidence increased in November, despite all of the press coverage on inflation rates.

How can retailers use these insights for the holiday season in 2021?

From the insights we’ve looked at in this article, retailers can take several steps to maximise festive revenue this year:

  • Make full use of search data: Keep track of search data throughout the holiday period to understand what consumers are most interested in and concerned about – all the answers you need are in this data.
  • Online purchases: Make sure customers can find you online and buy from your website – or through online channels, such as Amazon and eBay.
  • Product listings: Run Shopping ads in Google Ads and free product listings in Google Search to promote your most in-demand and seasonal items.
  • Bridge the online-offline gap: Allow people to find your store and products online with the option of completing the purchase in-store with reservations, pickups and collections.
  • Deliveries: For online purchases, offer free delivery with guaranteed delivery dates, tracked shipping and other incentives to reassure people they’ll get their items in time.
  • Inspire purchases: Use online channels to inspire purchase decisions, including content in organic search, YouTube content/ads and other inspirational platforms, such as Instagram, Pinterest and TikTok.
  • Promote local inventories: Use local inventory ads and “in stock” labels in product listings to show local shoppers you have the items they’re looking for, in stock and ready to buy.
  • Remarketing: Keep your offers in shoppers’ minds by delivering remarketing ads on the Display network.

A key lesson from the pandemic is that an online presence is crucial for retailers. Despite restrictions easing, people are still doing much of their shopping online and the majority of consumers are researching purchase ideas before they hit the high street, even when they do buy in-store.

This is a crucial insight because it tells us retailers not only need a platform for selling online but also channels to capture interest from shoppers while they’re in the research and planning stage of the buying process.

For retailers that already have eCommerce websites, the priority is optimising the experience to maximise online sales and bridge the gap between online and offline interactions, if you’re also selling in-store.

Consumers turn to search when they’re looking for inspiration and bridging this gap with services that ease the purchase process, such as free deliveries and in-store pickups, helps shoppers buy from you on their preferred terms.

Does your search marketing strategy need a Christmas boost?

If your search marketing strategy isn’t primed to take full advantage of the Christmas period this year, there may be time left to implement some quick fixes that’ll make the difference to your revenue reports for 2021.