In many countries, retail sales follow a predictable pattern. Things start off slow, steadily pick up steam, and then, at the end of the year, shoppers go totally berserk:
Retailers would prefer smoother buying patterns, which is why they urge consumers to get into the Christmas shopping spirit as early as possible. But human nature being what is, means that most people leave it until late—regardless of the discounts on offer earlier in the season.
That said, shoppers in some countries binge more aggressively than others. Quartz crunched the numbers for 10 years of retail sales data in eight countries where Christmas is traditionally the biggest gift-giving holiday. We ranked them by how much more is spent in December versus the average of the previous 11 months, for three popular categories: food, clothes, and gadgets. (Statistical definitions vary between countries, but are close enough for our purposes.)
When it comes to buying “stuff”—that is, clothes and gadgets—the top of the list has a distinctly North American flair. But it’s not the supposedly shopping-obsessed Americans who buy the most in December. Over the past 10 years, Canadians have bought almost twice as many gadgets, by value, in December than they do during other months:
The same goes for clothes, although the difference is not quite as stark. What is noteworthy, however, is that shoppers in Anglo-Saxon countries seem much more keen on buying clothes in December than their counterparts elsewhere. Do French and German kids not need new socks for Christmas?
Interestingly, these roles are reversed when it comes to food. Throughout December, holiday parties, family meals, and other seasonal gatherings feature food and drink in quantities and varieties that would seem obscene at any other time of year. Here, it’s the southern Europeans who distinguish themselves around Christmastime—rightfully so, given their delicious culinary traditions:
It’s worth noting that in places like Spain, where Epiphany on Jan. 6 is the main day when gifts are exchanged, the sales pattern varies. Although December is still the biggest month for shopping, Spaniards buy more clothes and gadgets in January, relative to the average in the rest of the year, than the other countries in the sample.
The January sales drop-off in Australia is also less pronounced than in places where Christmas comes during winter. The typical holiday meals there also feature considerably more barbecue than in their snowbound Northern Hemisphere counterparts, and Santa is much more likely to drop off surfboards and flip-flops than snowboards and sweaters.