With around 13% of all sales in the UK occurring in December (source: PCR) Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year – for most retailers, at least. Businesses fight to capture a chunk of the £42bn of sales that occur over the period, and to do this they need reliable, realistic and of-the-moment data to help influence their marketing strategies.

Christmas is hardly a new topic for researchers. With David Ogilvy’s famous adage ringing in our ears – “Consumers don’t think how they feel. They don’t say what they think and they don’t do what they say” – we partnered with independent market research agency, ResearchBods, to create the first study into festive behaviours that doesn’t solely rely on what people claimed they had done retrospectively, or might do with future good intentions.

Monitoring consumer retail and media behaviours from November 2016 to January 2017, our study has just been shortlisted in the Mediatel Research Awards 2018 in the Best Tracking Project category. As Christmas is just round the corner, we thought we would share some of our favourite findings with you.

Firstly, busting the myth around stressful shopping – 53% of our participants enjoyed their experience, and only 4% found it stressful. It was a particularly sociable affair, with 1 in 5 Brits ‘making a day of it’ – eating lunch out, going to a pantomime, ice skating or taking part in a similar activity. This rose to 1 in 3 amongst the 16-24s, who by all accounts were most partial to a day of festive fun. The same proportion went out shopping with friends compared with a lonely 1 in 10 Brits aged 65+.

Over time, it’s no surprise that motivations to shop change. Inspiration hunting was the modus operandi for 35% of shopping trips in late November but only 19% of those in the week of Christmas. So for brands, any content designed to encourage discovery and consideration, or to pull particular gifting items or categories to the top of mind, needs to be delivered early on in the calendar. Price comparison became less important the closer we were to Christmas, so limited time offers and price-led comms should kick in from mid-December onwards.

One particular surprise was that Brits spent longer on retail websites over Christmas weekend last year than any other weekend in December, and we saw traffic to retail sites and apps spike from 7-9pm on Christmas day itself. This was fuelled by women, who also drove the “things to do” searches between Christmas and New Year. Social media use during the key period was driven by the 65+, who spent 2h19m on average on these platforms versus 1h27m for the 16-24 group. This was largely fuelled by use of Facebook Messenger, as they sought to connect with friends and family who weren’t with them on the day itself.

Finally, as we down tools for the next few days, crack open the champagne and brace ourselves for the Brussels sprouts, remember that the 27th December is when most people start to think about booking holidays and stock up on party treats and booze.