Reports over recent years of the increased levels of spending at Christmas are not exaggerated. While their focus tends to be on spending on presents, the value of food and drink categories increases enormously and, in the final two weeks before Christmas, grocery spending runs at about twice its usual levels. Indeed, the two weeks before Christmas last year saw 5.6% of business done, compared with 5.2% in 1999. Certain stores have historically enjoyed stronger Christmas trading than others because many consumers switch to bigger stores. In the final two weeks, stores below 25,000 sq ft lose about 1.5 market share points to larger stores, with the majority of this picked up by stores above 40,000sq ft. The trend towards bigger stores starts at the end of November when Asda is usually the initial beneficiary, closely followed by Tesco. Both stores benefit from wider non-food ranges. Safeway and Somerfield, with their smaller store formats, lose share at this time. Previously, Tesco and Asda have picked up much business from disaffected Somerfield, Kwik Save and Sainsbury shoppers, but now these chains have arrested their decline, this year could put increased competitive pressure on everybody. Some retailers gain an atypically high share at this time. By the second week of December, Marks and Spencer food share increases by a full point. Likewise, the share of independent butchers almost doubles in Christmas week. The week is the key trading week of the year and the key drivers for success will already have been decided - accurate demand forecasting, appropriate distribution of product both to and within store and in-store service execution. Last year the major multiples took few chances and opened a record number of stores 24 hours a day. Thousands of additional temporary staff were employed to ensure on-shelf product availability and to speed up the checkout process. Christmas 2000 was unusual in that it contained a full seven trading days because Christmas Eve fell on Sunday. A proportion of shoppers were clearly leaving little to chance and chose Friday as the day for their main shop, making this the biggest day of that week, marginally beating Saturday which remains the most important shopping day throughout the rest of the year. While Asda and Tesco dominated in early December, their share failed to further increase in the final week. This was also the case for Morrisons. Sainsbury, however, gained an entire share point in the final week compared with its running rate through December. Its reputation for quality fresh foods possibly gave it an advantage in the fresh dominated trollies of Christmas week. So what of Christmas 2001? For starters, the winning stores will be those that offer attention-grabbing bargains in non food, such as Tesco's DVD offer last year. Getting coverage for innovative party and convenience foods will also attract time-poor, cash-rich consumers. Turkey pricing has not played a role in recent years, but in the current pricing environment, stores should be ready to act on that front. Twenty-four-hour opening comes into its own at Christmas. Stores need to make sure shoppers are offered full product availability and sensible checkout lengths. As ever in retail, success is only guaranteed by doing everything right, all of the time. n {{COVER FEATURE }}