Consumer spending on seasonal events during the winter/autumn months totalled £3 billion in 2020/21. Back-to-School saw a 9% decline in spending, albeit much lower compared to other seasonal events as it was the only seasonal event to occur outside lockdown. Bonfire Night and Halloween held up well despite COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings and household mixing. Spending for these events reached an estimated £464 million and £556 million in 2020 as households took the opportunity to spend time with friends and family.

The impact of COVID-19 and related lockdowns has had a clear impact on all seasonal events leading to a significant drop in spending levels for most events. Historically all these events have been store-oriented and lockdowns have forced shoppers to move shopping habits online. Despite this, it is encouraging to see that purchasing levels have remained resilient for most events – giving retailers plenty of scope to capture spend from consumers who want a reason to celebrate and treat family and friends.

Seasonal events are particularly sensitive to macroeconomic factors. As such, we expect to see consumers holding back on discretionary spend as the impact of the COVID-19 recession lingers on and Brexit adds further uncertainty to levels of consumer confidence.

The push to online purchasing of gifts and products during these events has allowed smaller online players to stand out. Personalisation has been a key theme across events and online players are well placed to cater to this. However, consumers enjoy the store experience during these events and retailers on the high street capitalise on impulse purchasing while this habit may be more difficult for online players to capture.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • Impact of COVID-19 on spending levels for seasonal events.

  • Impact of COVID-19 on gift and product buying for seasonal events.

  • Seasonal events activities for Halloween, Bonfire Night and Valentine’s Day.

  • Behaviours related to seasonal events.

COVID-19: market context

The first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK at the end of January 2020, with a small number of cases in February. Rapidly rising case numbers led to the first national lockdown, starting on 23 March. It wasn't until 15 June that non-essential stores were allowed to reopen, followed by pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers on 4 July and many beauty businesses on 13 July.

By September, it had become clear that the UK was at the start of a second wave, and social distancing measures were intensified. Continued increases in infection numbers led to Wales implementing a two-week national lockdown from 19 October, England announcing a month-long lockdown from 5 November and Scotland introducing a new five-level system of coronavirus restrictions.

Despite these restrictions, however, case numbers continued to increase. All four UK nations tightened restrictions further in January 2021, effectively leading to a full UK-wide lockdown.

On 22 February, Boris Johnson announced the roadmap to an easing of restrictions in England, starting with the reopening of schools on 8 March, followed by easing of restrictions on outdoor gatherings on 29 March and with a hoped end to all restrictions by 21 June. The Welsh and Scottish governments also gave more details on their plans to ease restrictions, with both nations taking a slightly more cautious approach to the one planned for England.

The UK’s vaccination programme started on 8 December 2020, and with the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines licensed for use in the UK, the government aims to offer a first dose of the vaccine to 32 million people by mid-April.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel’s economic assumptions are based on the Office for Budget Responsibility’s central scenario included in its March 2021 Economic and Fiscal Outlook Report. After the fall of 9.9% over the course of 2020, the scenario suggests that UK GDP will grow by 4% in 2021 and 7.3% in 2022.

GDP isn’t expected to return to pre-COVID-19 levels until Q2 2022, although this is six months earlier than the OBR forecast in November 2020, mainly because of the faster-than-expected rollout of vaccines.

Unemployment is expected to peak at 6.5% in Q4 2021. As with GDP, this is more positive than the OBR’s November forecast, but the OBR does raise the prospect of long-term scarring on employment, especially in the more exposed retail and hospitality sectors.

At the time of writing, schools were allowed to reopen from 8 March across the UK. As outlined in the government roadmap, non-essential stores were to reopen on 12 April.

Products covered in this Report

This Report focuses on four of the major annual retail events that fall in the autumn/winter months: Back-to-School, Halloween, Bonfire Night and Valentine’s Day.

Although we discuss Black Friday and Christmas in some sections to give context to the wider seasonal shopping market, these two events are not included in the scope of this Report and are therefore excluded from the market size and consumer research. More detailed research on Black Friday and Christmas can be found in Mintel’s Christmas Gift Buying – UK, February 2021 Report.

The market size for this Report covers the four major annual retail events that fall in the autumn/winter months (excluding Black Friday and Christmas): Back-to-School, Halloween, Bonfire Night and Valentine’s Day.

All market sizes exclude spending on leisure activities, but estimates for this kind of spending have also been made wherever appropriate to give more context to the wider market and changes in consumer behaviour.

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