LONDON: As retailers start gearing up for Christmas almost before the summer holidays have ended, marketers have been advised to examine consumers' online behaviour in order to more effectively tailor their messages and convert searches into purchases.

A new study from eBay, the ecommerce site, revealed that during May and June this year, there had already been more than 150,000 UK searches for "Christmas" on its site.

Looking back to last year, in the September to December period, there were more than 250,000 searches for the term "Christmas presents" and 170,000 for "stocking fillers".

EBay termed this early thinking about seasonal gifts "long-listing" and argued that marketers could not afford to miss out on influencing these consumers before they finalised their buying decisions.

"By observing online behaviour in the run-up to Christmas, brands can identify and differentiate between undecided Christmas 'gifters' and people who are shopping for themselves," Phuong Nguyen, head of eBay Advertising in the UK, told Marketing Week.

Typically, consumers start to research purchases for other people in October and eBay suggested this was an ideal time for marketers to start adapting their messaging to gifters.

It cited the examples of lingerie and ties – the number of "lingerie" searches by men began to rise in October 2012 before jumping 23% in November, while the number of searches for neck-ties by women rose 25% in the same period.

"The ability to pinpoint what stage of the gifting cycle shoppers are at – from long-listing through to short-listing and purchase – also allows for greater segmentation and more effective targeting," added Nguyen.

UK consumers are likely to face a difficult festive period, however, with income failing to keep pace with inflation and food prices rising fast. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show food price inflation stood at 4.4% in July, while the consumer prices index increase of 2.8% was ahead of the 1.7% uplift in average earnings.

Data sourced from Marketing Week, Daily Telegraph; additional content by Warc staff