2 Jan 2018
Russians Shop Earlier and Earlier for their Unusually Late Christmas
Although Christmas doesn't come to Russia until 7 January, many consumers now begin gift-buying in early November.
Although Christmas comes late in Russia (or very early, depending on how you look at it) and is traditionally celebrated on 7 January, the associated sales period has edged ever backwards, although it is yet to match the October kick-off for all things festive that is now a long-standing feature of much of Western Europe. As with its neighbours to the West, however, Christmas spending is expected to be well up in Russia this year, with a 4% rise in the overall purchase level predicted. If borne out, this would see the country's yuletide spend growing twice as fast as the overall European average and put it on a par with the likely spending surge in the robustly recovering German economy.
Many of the domestic and multinational retailers operating in Russia have already acknowledged the unusual alacrity with which consumers have set about their 2017 Christmas shopping. This year, many began buying gifts and other festive items in early November, immediately following the autumn school vacations and coinciding with the 4 November national holiday, traditionally a time when many middle-class Russians opt for a week away from it all.
This year, though, M-Video, Russia's largest national consumer electronics player, reported a 10% surge in sales in November. The same phenomenon was also commented upon by the Perekrestok supermarket chain, a subsidiary of the X5 Retail Group, Russia's largest food retailer. In its case, total receipts began to creep up around the same period, while shoppers also showed a greater inclination to buy more expensive items than they had in the run-up to Christmas 2016.
This overall willingness to begin the Christmas shop a little earlier was further borne out by a recent survey conducted in a number of the country's metropolitan districts. This indicated that about 33% of all Christmas-related purchases were completed on or before 15 December, compared with the 27% that had been completed around the same point last year.
Overall, this move towards earlier Christmas shopping is believed to have begun five years ago. This was a time when spontaneous purchases were dispensed with in favour of a more budget-conscious and planned spending regime. The subsequent decline in spending power and the greater austerity ushered in by the post-2014 sanctions and currency fluctuations then accelerated the process.
In line with the recent willingness to spend more, however, the average price of many Christmas gifts has also begun to creep up. According to Rosstat, Russia's official statistics agency, books have seen the biggest price rise, with an average 5% increase taking the typical cost of a paperback to about US$6.
Despite this, book sales shot up by 25% in November, with this increase being sustained through December – no mean feat given that purchase levels in the sector have been whittled away by the growing popularity of e-readers and tablets. A number of analysts believe, however, that traditional gifts always enjoy a Christmas 'bounce', with books still accorded considerable value when it comes to gift buying.
Ultimately, for 2017, Russia's Christmas best-sellers list looks a little conventional, if not predictable. With books in first place, toys come next, followed by other children's items, household electric appliances and consumer electronics, with gifts/premiums and household goods taking slots six and seven.
In order to capitalise on the country's suddenly expansive shopping predilections, many of Russia's largest retailers – including such massive supermarket and convenience store chains as Magnit and Dixy, each with more than 12,000 outlets – have launched a series of huge Christmas discount initiatives, with some prices cut by as much as 96%. Among the items most likely to be found on offer are chocolate sets, tea and coffee gift sets, toiletries and cosmetics, as well as a range of home and office decoration items, including novelty lighting and party goods.
Leonid Orlov, Moscow Consultant