The promotions are fiercer than ever, but who is winning? Liz Hamson reports

Last Christmas was very much Asda’s. Voted best supermarket for alcohol, non food gifts, toys and games, it could also boast that its shoppers were the biggest spenders. This year, however, although its star continues to twinkle, Tesco’s is shining even brighter, according to a survey carried out exclusively for The Grocer.
Shoppers have voted Tesco best for food and drink gifts and general Christmas grocery items in this year’s Harris Interactive survey. Though not the only one pushing half-price champagne and Chablis this year, the multiple is whipping the competition in the annual booze wars after just losing out to Asda last year. It has also narrowed the gap in non food gifts and toys and games - and all this in a year dogged by warnings of consumer backlash.
The findings suggest Tesco is helping itself to a larger slice of the Christmas cake, says Harris Interactive senior researcher, Caroline North: “Tesco has done the best in terms of improving its rating. It’s really turning things around in non food. Shoppers also see its grocery offer in an increasingly attractive light. Its success shows that all PR is good PR.”
A Tesco spokeswoman acknowledges that non food is key: “Christmas is the most important trading period and it is great to see that customers recognise our great quality and good value products at this time of year. We are also encouraged to see that, increasingly, customers are considering us for non food purchases.”
Tesco’s success doesn’t mean Asda is doing badly, however, argues North. “Asda shoppers are still spending more on average and that means there’s a bigger opportunity to capitalise on.”
While expected to capture a similar percentage of additional shoppers as Tesco for food and drink gifts and festive grocery items, Asda also looks as though it is going to pull in more punters for non food and drink gifts and items, she adds.
An Asda spokesman certainly sees no cause for alarm. He says: “We’re delighted to see we have such generous customers and are pleased that the survey indicates a strong Christmas for us. We’re also happy that we have a strong value position and that our general merchandise offer is very well received, especially toys and games.”
As for the other players, the fight for the Christmas pound is not such a two-horse race. Morrisons’ ratings have improved across the board despite the upheaval following its merger with Safeway. While Sainsbury still languishes behind the top two and is seen as worse this year for non food and drink gifts, it has made significant gains in Christmas grocery, alcohol and food and drink gifts.
It now needs to focus on its non food offer, believes North. “It’s done better in core grocery, but hasn’t improved in non food.It needs to capitalise on non food to maximise the returns on food. The two are inextricably linked at Christmas. More than any other time of year, people want to do their shopping in one hit.”
Non food is not just a challenge for Sainsbury, however. After a torrid year, the high street appears to be regaining lost ground, with Boots, Woolworths, WHSmith and Marks & Spencer all persuading a significant number of shoppers who do not use them normally to try them for non food and drink gifts this year.
And there’s no room for complacency when it comes to food either, says North. “The store that outshines both Tesco and Asda in term of additional shoppers at Christmas is Marks & Spencer. If it gets the mix right, it could reconnect with many lost customers this season.”
She also sounds a note of caution over consumer spending patterns, pointing out that more shoppers expect to spend less this year and fewer expect to spend more. The finding reinforces Deloitte research predicting a 2.8% downturn in spending this Christmas, with non food probably taking the brunt as consumers turn away from big ticket items to relatively inexpensive food treats.
Nevertheless, supermarkets should still fare better than most of their high street rivals because of the increased appeal of food in economic downturns.The big question is: will it be Tesco or Asda that wins out in the end?

Festive spending
>>shoppers say they will look at supermarkets for non food and drink gifts
When did you/will you start your food Christmas shopping? (%)’05’04
Before September39
Start of December2726
Fortnight before2510
A few days before148
Christmas Eve11
How much do you think you will spend this year compared with last? (%)’05’04
The same6365

Which of these retailers do you intend to visit in the run-up to Christmas for food and drink that you wouldn’t normally? (%) ’05
Kwik Save7
WH Smith3

Which of these do you intend to visit in the run-up to Christmas for non food and drink gifts? (%)’05
WH Smith51
Kwik Save3

How much would you say you spent on Christmas last year? (£)
Asda shoppers676
Tesco shoppers 610
Morrisons shoppers601
Sainsbury shoppers546
Overall average602

How much would you say it cost in total? (%)
Less than £1004
£100 to £24917
£250 to £49933
£500 to £74921
£750 to £99910
£1,000 to £1,49910
£1,500 to £1,9993
£2,000 or above2

Which supermarkets are the best for… (%)

Christmas grocery items?’05’04
Tesco 4733
Asda 3026
Sainsbury 2519
None of these97

Alcoholic drinks?’05’04
Sainsbury 1813
None of these1814

Food and drink gifts?’05’04
None of these2519

Non food and drink gifts?’05’04
Asda 2526
Tesco 2416
None of these5247

Christmas cards?’05’04
Tesco 1614
Sainsbury 74
Morrisons 53
None of these6460

Christmas wrapping?’05’04
Tesco 2017
Sainsbury 86
None of these5550

Christmas toys and games?’05’04
Asda 2629
Tesco 1915
Sainsbury 32
Morrisons 22
None of these5853

Christmas homeware and decorations?
None of these3532

Source: Research conducted by Harris Interactive’s Harris Poll Global Omnibus among a nationally representative sample of 1,907 GB main grocer and non-grocery shoppers between November 17 and 21, 2005. For more information, contact Caroline North 0208 263 5246