Have pre-Christmas sales finally started?

Today we heard Tesco is reducing 1,000 lines by up to 50%. House of Fraser doing something similar, and of course there’s the Woolworths closing down sale. Is this finally the beginning of pre-Christmas sales?

You may be surprised by that question; after all, the one day sales and shopping vouchers deals notes on the site have been reporting a raft of different sales types for weeks now. However I was mulling the idea that we’re seeing sales move into a pattern of three overlapping types:

  • Tactical/Discrete Sales

    These are sales primarily designed to attract new customers without cannibalising the existing trade.

    The obvious examples of these are shopping vouchers, which are discrete discounts to those in the know. If you’ve got the piece of paper you get it cheaper, yet if you walk in you pay full price.

    However, less focused one-day store wide discounts, like those Marks & Spencer has twice done, can have a similar impact. With heavy publicity these can draw in shoppers, especially price-sensitive ones, who wouldn’t shop there otherwise. While of course it brings in regulars too, the overall impact is likely to skew towards new customers.

  • Promotional Sales

    Here the aim is to publicise the store, bring in more customers, keep it fresh in the mind, and make it the first port of call. Many pre-Christmas sales seem to have this aim, as well as lightening stock levels slightly. Yet the discounting often isn’t too heavy, it’s more about drawing in customers and maintaining market position.

    What I find interesting is how the pre-Christmas sales seem to keep being reported as a ‘shock’ event. Actually it’s become a stalwart part of the retail calendar, as regular as January and summer sales.

    We’ve had these sales for years now and they tend to come in a week or so before Christmas to catch the impulse or last-chance buyers, whilst persuading those waiting for the sales that the discounts have arrived early.

  • Stock clearance sales

    This is the aim of the January sales and summer sales: to clear the floor space so the stores can restock to enable next season’s ranges to be brought in.

    These seasonal clearance sales are usually by far the most heavily discounted, with prices of whatever sales stock is left continuing to drop until it’s all gone.

Now of course my definitions are arbitrary, and with different stores the distinctions are blurred. Yet as a thought piece it’s interesting to try and characterise the different types.

At this point I’ll revert to my original question, have the pre-Christmas sales started? It seems the volume of one day sales and vouchers are dropping and slowly we’re hearing announcement of the “up to 25% off selected lines” such as Ikea’s sale starting on 18 December, that have more traditionally characterised the late December reductions.

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