We are about to enter the peak festive retail period now - Black Friday will drop the starting flag for the final furlong to Christmas. A record £1.1bn was spent by consumers over Black Friday in 2016 and takings may give an indication of people’s propensity to spend over the season - the weekend was followed by retail sales in December up 2.5% year on year.

Given nervousness about the economy, people will be thinking harder about their budgets, but Brits like a lavish Christmas. The average person in the UK spent £452 on Christmas last year (the most in Europe), with one in five intending to spend more this year. However, the battle for every grocery pound will be fierce; people will shop around for the right ingredients at the right price and on average will purchase at 3.5 outlets for groceries over Christmas compared with 2.6 in a normal week [Google Surveys 2017/Mintel 2016].

Martijn Bertisen

Supermarkets who focus on capturing actionable insights from the data at their disposal will be well placed to succeed this Christmas. One such source of data is Google Trends, a free online tool that lets users understand how consumers are searching. It can be a valuable indicator of demand and the insights can help retailers determine stock levels, pricing, timings for personalised promotional messages, etc. Festive food searches begin to build from mid-September, however Christmas food planning starts in earnest mid-November.

Looking at how people shop, people are more likely to trade up on pre-prepared items as we see these items often co-searched with the terms ‘quality’ or ‘best’, so have those premium mince pies, packets of stuffing and Christmas puddings prominent online and on aisle ends.

2016 also indicated a trend towards last minute shopping that looks likely to increase this year as the breadth of fulfilment offerings available from supermarkets has grown and convenient collection and delivery become the norm. More than a fifth of millennials now leave festive shopping to the last minute.

Food and drink can also be well-received presents - and we saw an interesting trend last year in searches for foodstuffs derived from traditional British ingredients, such as English sparkling wine and rhubarb gin. Identifying likely last-minute panics and providing content and promotions on the items that can assist or even surprise and delight will reap rewards.

Understanding and forecasting consumer behaviour is a challenging feat but if you can help a harried family get Christmas right with useful recommendations married to compelling offers, then you will gain loyalty that lasts far into 2018.

Martijn Bertisen is UK sales director at Google