Christmas disruption offers retail lessons for future success

The ways the pandemic affected shopping patterns this festive season offer valuable lessons in what matters most to customers.
14 December 2020
Family enjoying Christmas together
Joanna Parman

Strategic Insights Director, Worldpanel Division

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It’s mid-December and there is a buzz of activity across the nation as we navigate the last few trading days of the year. Many high streets have been staying open later than normal to try and re-coup spend lost during lockdowns; plenty of pubs, bars and restaurants have reshaped menus and outside spaces to welcome back long lost patrons and provide a safe space for festive cheer; Christmas lists are being ticked off whilst households manage sensitive negotiations around forming household bubbles. So how has Christmas 2020 shaped up against expectations, and what can we learn from the season to take into the new year and beyond?

Online or the high street: Who will win December?

Online sales were not only boosted by a second lockdown in England in November, but also by Black Friday deals drifting into December. Cyber week really kickstarted online spend in the lead up to Christmas, and the channel’s share of weekly spend is now the highest it has been in 20201. In the latest four weeks, this peaked at 41% for total retail2, as shoppers look for those remaining gifts, and to avoid queues outside stores.

Categories continuing to see a high level of online activity include toys, beauty, fashion and electronics, all with around 80% or more of their sales coming through online in the last four weeks, suggesting high levels of Christmas shopping being carried out whilst much of the country was held in the second lockdown.

However, we have also seen shoppers return to the high street in their droves as many stores have re-opened. Shoppers have made a bee-line for clothing and department stores as they re-engage with physical shopping. The restricted shopping experience is now something shoppers have become used to navigating and, in spite of an increase in traffic, the majority continue to feel very safe going to store (52%)3. Coupled with the need to pick and choose items ourselves, this does offer a glimmer of hope for the UK high street, with the next few weeks an early indicator of how shoppers will behave into the New Year. Key to ensuring success will be making sure online and physical retail work together; both channels have had to reinvent themselves throughout this year and will need to continue that journey into 2021.

In the final throes of the season, what’s still in play?

In the run up to the last few days of the season, all attention turns to the main meal on Christmas Day. This year is set to be a more personal Christmas. We’ve seen a consistent trend of families re-engaging with traditional meals together, as UK households use the time to cook a meal to break up “work” from “home” and spend quality time together as a family.

And with 42% of respondents stating that they are determined to have a better Christmas than ever this year4, we expect the Christmas table to be smaller, but the menu to be more extravagant, as family bubbles cherish time together and look to treat themselves in the absence of a full gathering. For manufacturers and retailers, this a last chance to make sure it is their product that’s chosen off the shelf – and is remembered fondly as having brought a spark of joy in a dark year. 

Looking ahead to 2021, what impact is this Christmas going to have on how we start back again in January?

For brands and retailers alike, it will be important to learn from how the disruption of the pandemic affected shopping patterns this Christmas. This will help to highlight the critical moments on the shopper path to purchase, and what matters most to shoppers.

At the same time, Brexit looms on the horizon, so any increased discretionary spending on Christmas may be quickly closed again as the impact of a recession, coupled with caution about the impact of the deal, will mean shoppers hold back spending in the first part of the year. However, with news about the vaccine and as the spring warms up UK shores, expect shoppers to shift spending to focus on socialising again as, hopefully, we reunite once more.

This is the final 2020 article in our “It's beginning to look like Christmas: or is it?” series. But don’t forget to check back in January for our review. 


  1. Kantar ecommerce daily dashboard, weekly share of online   
  2. Kantar ecommerce data 4/we 29 November 2020
  3. Kantar Worldpanel Plus Shopper Satisfaction, 4 w/e data 20 November 2020
  4. Kantar Worldpanel Plus Mobile Survey (46,709 shoppers), 9 Nov 2020 – 23 Nov 2020
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