13th Deloitte Christmas Study - Uncertainty continues to affect Belgian consumer behaviour

Belgian consumers estimate spending an average of €570 during the Christmas period, the fifth decrease in a row
30 Nov 2010

Brussels, 30 November 2010 – Today, Deloitte announced the Belgian results of its 13th European consumer study on year-end purchasing. Having experienced a major financial crisis, European economies need dynamic consumer spending to re-launch growth. Yet a shaky economy, job uncertainty and stagnant purchasing power are all taking their toll on the seasonal shopping plans of Belgian consumers. Belgian consumers estimate they will spend an average of €570 this holiday season, slightly less than last year and the fifth decrease in a row. Over the past couple of years, price vulnerability has increased and a strong preference for useful gifts has been established. One exception to this trend is high-tech gadgets, which are predicted to be hot this year, despite relatively expensive price tags. Gift vouchers still top Belgian consumers' wish lists for the fourth consecutive year, with half of Belgians planning to give or receive them.

Economic concerns still stifle holiday shopping

Uncertain about the state of the economy and worried about purchasing power and job security, many consumers have little hope of an economic recovery in 2011. The number of Belgian consumers believing the economy will grow fell from 35% in 2009 to 25% in 2010, with the people responding "don't know" doubling. And while 33% of men expect economic improvement, only 17% of women do.

Most consumers believe their purchasing power will flatten in 2011, whereas an increased spending power perception is needed to boost consumer spending. Similar sentiments are seen in other Western European countries, with pessimism highest – not surprisingly - in Ireland and Greece. Eastern European consumers are more optimistic about their spending power and the future.

Estimated €70M in gift vouchers will probably remain unused

Having cut back on entertainment and clothing purchases, Belgian and European consumers are, like last year, focusing on useful and less expensive gifts and seeking the best prices and special offers. The major exception to this trend is premium products and new technologies (iPad, iPhone), which are more popular than ever. Gift vouchers top Belgians' wish list for the fourth consecutive year, with half of Belgians planning to give or receive them. "But that doesn't mean they will all be redeemed," says Mathieu van der Schueren, Director, Deloitte Belgium, "About 6% of consumers have indicated they received gift vouchers in the last 12 months and have not yet redeemed them. Another 9% has only partially redeemed their gift vouchers. We estimate that approximately €70 million in gift vouchers will remain unused in Belgium in 2010."

Although European shoppers generally appear to be increasingly satisfied with the Internet, Belgians continue to lag behind other Europeans in Internet shopping, with only 16% buying online compared to 33% in Europe overall. "Belgian consumers also use the Internet less to search for gifts, and we make less use of Internet sites to check the best prices. Also, Belgians use social media less than our European peers", confirms Mathieu van der Schueren.

Belgians to spend slightly less during this Christmas period

2010 spending forecasts in Europe are 2.5% lower on average than they were in 2009. Belgian consumers estimate they will spend an average of €570 this holiday season, slightly less than last year and the fifth decrease in a row. This decrease will especially affect gift purchases and the budget for leisure time and going out. Additional spending on food remains stable. When consumers do buy gifts, they strongly prefer doing so at specialty chains. In Europe, traditional department stores generally continue to be the first choice for consumers (18%).

Personal preferences – Belgians set the trend for gift vouchers

Gift preferences vary widely across Europe, with Finns preferring cash, the Swiss hoping for a book, Poles asking for cosmetics, Ukrainians wishing for travel and Belgians wanting gift vouchers. The position of gift vouchers rises each year in the hierarchy of gifts. The gift voucher first became the most wished-for gift in Belgium in 2007, and it has now attained a #1 status in five countries (Ireland, UK, Belgium, Holland and France). Belgians have been trendsetters in this aspect and were followed by various other countries. Confirming that it is hard to shop for adolescents, gift vouchers and cash are the highest-ranked gifts for teenagers. Two remarkable changes in the top ten gifts that Belgians intend to buy: cash climbed steadily up the ranking, from the 9th position in 2009 to the 5th this year. Music (CD's, MP3) dropped down from #3 last year to #8 in the 2010 ranking.