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A premature start to Christmas leads to a bad case of humbug for retail says Gabriel Murray

Driving in the car listening to the Christmas music - me and the kids take in the lyrics

The feelin’s here, that only comes this time of year

Simply having a wonderful Christmas time

But when is Christmas time?

Christmas comes too early these days. There are too many aspects to Christmas shopping, especially all that vying for our buying budgets – gifting, food purchase, entertaining, online, in-store, out to party, out to the restaurant, the on and on of it…. the constant promotion from online retailers asking us to consider things that we have already bought; the car radio telling us of the holiday deals; the Black Friday Specials, the Cyber Monday bargains that last longer than a day; every high street and shopping mall edging us to that sale.

The influence of Christmas has certainly changed over the years and definitely in the world of shopping. We are totally engrossed in the global holiday season and the bargains we can get, as we become ever so ‘consumer influencer’ led, rather than shopping driven. In mid-market retail we’re increasingly influenced by price and convenience more than actual shopping - we must get the deal we’ve been told to.  We are influenced by fear that we won’t get the kids that special toy or the wife a handbag - we must buy it and we must buy it now rather than fear disappointment, achieving self gratification and relieving pressure that wasn’t really there in the first place!

The magic feeling of Christmas shopping has gone for over-populated promotions and over early hype. There’s no excitement, no expectation, no emotion. The human instincts are exhausted before the holidays have begun and we have become emotionless cyborgs, moving our human shopping experience over to technology and robots. We forgo the human interaction of the experience, the back story of the emotional activity, the pleasure of the find, for the inconvenience of the post man, and picking that special something up from the neighbours – I guess that, perhaps, is better social engagement than badly serviced retailers.

For the past few years I refused to be party to the early season promotion. I still want the experience, that buzz of going to the shops, bumping into people, interacting, trying to spread joy in my own humble way with a smile and the sense of my own exploration in finding the gift to be persuaded to buy - something influencing the spirit rather than the endorsement of robot recommendations.

That’s where other activities have become an every increasing part of our seasonal shopping experience. The Christmas fair seems to be a popular release of our human selves. The rise of quasi-northern European village fairs, such as that in Hyde Park, seems ironic in our Pre-Brexit Britain retail landscape. But the Gluehwein aromas and Bavarian beer in wooden beamed halls, intertwined with traditional gingham and the smell of bratwurst wafting over people queuing for funfair rides, where excited children scream in joy, offers a real alternative Christmas experience.

Missing here was any form of true retail, except for the woolly hat stall, but there was a true feeling of excitement and expectation, the thrill of the unknown, sharing, human interaction, socialising, and a family spirited close comradery of friends doing something together and enjoying a few of their favourite things, whilst slipping on the muddy water lapping at the metal plate lattice covering the muddy grass.

A stones throw away in the overtly rock’n’roll Oxford Street, it was a different story. There were considerably fewer people there than I expected, reaffirming the decline of actual high street shopping. There was a less festive mood than usual, with stores having little real thought to Christmas. O2 had its ubiquitious, boring blue Christmas trees, with the majority of the stores relying on generic street decorations. A far cry from the overly themed, full on fun of the Christmas Fair. 

However, there was a real piece of interactivity - albeit a bit low res - with T.M Lewin’s snow machine that caused a laugh and interest to the shoppers. The real humdinger attraction was Selfridges, with vintage guitars in the windows, offering a retro-traditional Christmas spectacular- but the in-store merchandise didn’t rock the boat. There was another rock’n’roll themed eye catcher at John Lewis & Partners, but it was more pianissimo in-store

Both these offered some destination during a pretty miserable walk down one of London’s key high street destinations where there was otherwise no creativity, activity or joy.

Christmas shopping is not just for Christmas any more. Customers are bombarded with too many early influences, pressuring us to buy early through increasing online and in-store promotions. This has helped us lose the will to shop, and when we do go shopping the experience isn’t good enough, the store design isn’t good enough and the service isn’t good enough - in a land where there are more interesting things to do.

This Christmas the retail experience isn’t centre stage anymore - the promotion has gone before the shopping begins.

Gabriel Murray is CCO at Studio 48 London