Festive sales predictions to drive your marketing strategy 

by Nicole van Wyk. With SA officially experiencing its second wave, this festive season might actually be the most uncertain time of the year.

by Nicole van Wyk. If this were any other year, we’d be preparing ourselves to start singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”. But it’s 2020 and we’re in the middle of a devastating pandemic. South African businesses and consumers had just started to breathe a sigh of relief at the lockdown levels being relaxed, before COVID-19 cases began rising again and the president reinforced lockdown restrictions on the country. With SA officially experiencing its second wave, this festive season might actually be the most uncertain time of the year – for consumers and marketers alike.

Nonetheless, the festive season is fast approaching, so this is the best time to look at a few predictions for Christmas that could inform your marketing efforts during the pandemic. What will spending look like? A recent Christmas spending report by Finder revealed that South Africans are planning to spend less this Christmas than they did last year: “Nearly six in 10 South African adults plan to spend 33% less on average this Christmas”; and 56% of South Africans surveyed indicated that they will cut their spending by as much as one third of their previous budget. Interestingly, those aged between 35 and 55 say they’re more likely to spend less; while those aged between 18 and 24 are less likely to want to reduce their spending this year.

What will shopping look like?

The good news is people around the world are still planning to spend over the Christmas season – it just might be in a more frugal and socially distant way. According to Global Web Index, Christmas shopping this year is set to be more online than ever before. On the one hand, concern over hygiene and social distancing could put people off the in-store experience. This is something we’ve already seen with the recent Black Friday in-store sales “flop” around the country.

What gifts are consumers planning to buy? Globally, the top expected gift purchases are clothes and shoes (65%​), home goods (52%​), electronics like PCs, laptops, tablets (51%), and toys (42%​). In addition, 19% of people say they expect to buy more gift cards than they did in 2019.

What will travel look like?

South Africa re-opened its borders for international flights to and from some countries after six months. Whether South Africans are ready to hop on a plane and fly out of the country over the holidays is yet to be seen. What we’re likely to see more of is inter-provincial travel within our borders. Partly because South Africans tend to travel home for the holidays and partly because there’s been a big drive from government encouraging local tourism.

While we might see older, family-orientated South Africans stick to traveling to family and having intimate gatherings, young millennials are keen to get out and re-explore the outdoors – whether that’s with a girls’ or boys’ trip, bae-cation, or weekend away. ​Safari trips and hiking opportunities have the strongest social media presence and will therefore have the most attraction for young explorers.

What will kids’ holidays look like?

Brands and parents often rely on holiday programmes or activations to keep kids entertained over the festive season. With Christmas falling over the summer season, outdoor activities are a huge opportunity for brands and families. ​With social distancing set to be a priority through December, big outdoor holiday programmes might take a step back. Instead, we might see brands competing to get into the homes of families rather than to get them outdoors. Parents will still need to find ways to entertain kids, so any good home entertainment options, even branded ones, might be welcomed. ​

However, this doesn’t mean that outdoor activities and activations are out completely. They just might need to happen on a smaller scale and in more open areas (think family-friendly markets). Families that do not have the cash to go on holiday, would look to family-themed events – often at malls or retailers. What does this mean for family-geared mall activations? We might not see as much foot traffic in malls, so this could affect the kind of activations that take place (since they normally rely on crowds). However, there is an opportunity for brands to focus on experiences that can entertain kids in stores without needing to do a big activation that requires daily set up.

Considerations for brands and marketers:

  • This year, think local. There are great opportunities for brands to create content and experiences that hit home with South Africans – quite literally. Take advantage of the rise of locally based shopping and travel. ​
  • Understand the different attitudes of consumers under lockdown. There are divergent behaviours that will be predominant this festive season. Broadly speaking, there will be those seeking safe family-friendly activities and those looking for responsible social activities (particularly for independent millennials and Gen Zs).
  • Make sure that your communication and marketing activities factor in the specific needs and concerns of your target audience.
  • There will be major pressure on brands to adhere to social distancing regulations – even if it’s not an expectation for certain consumers. Keep that in mind and make it a top priority when planning.
  • With consumers potentially being very cognisant of their activities during the holiday period – who they are spending time with and how – brands wanting to engage consumers need to do it in a way that is valuable. Ultimately, brands will need to adapt to consumers’ attitudes and make sure that they answer key questions like ‘Why should I care?’ or ‘Why should I engage with you?’.

All we want for Christmas is to not be under lockdown, but with SA COVID-19 cases rising rapidly, brands need to prepare for the possibility of even stricter lockdown levels and safety precautions that could be put back into place. Now is the time to ensure that your digital strategy is strong enough to keep your consumers engaged online and be even more cognisant of how you meet them, wherever they are – indoors or outdoors.


Nicole van Wyk is a strategist at Clockwork, a results-driven communications agency that tells brand stories to accelerate branding.



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