Expats want special services as well as presents during the holidays.

When it comes to Christmas sales everyone fixates on retail.

At it first glance, this industry seems to be dominated by a few big names. Research from overseas shipping website Forward2me found Amazon UK the #1 for expat shoppers, followed by H&M UK and John Lewis. Expats gravitate to these familiar brands for much of their Christmas shopping, often through simple internet searches.

Fortunately, expats’ specific needs offer potential for niche-retailers as well. And there are other holiday niches ripe with potential, many of them service related.

Take international calling. According to Graham Milne, Founder and CEO of VIP Communications, expat call volumes rise sharply over the holidays:

Christmas is undoubtedly the biggest day of the year for call volume–-about a 54% increase over a normal day. Because it lands on a Sunday this year, we are expecting even larger numbers than usual.

Last year VIP turned this trend into cash by offering free minutes to customers who topped their accounts off with credit before Christmas. This year they are promoting their service with a USD 5 credit for anyone who opens a new account. As VIP shows, once a company’s found its holiday niche specific campaigns follow naturally.

Expats crave “home” around the holidays

As always, the trick to appealing to expats is approaching them in terms of their unique lifestyles. To set your product or campaign apart, start by thinking about how expats differ from other holiday shoppers:

  • Emotion drives holiday spending. Expats often look home during the holidays: thinking of friends and family, reminiscing about Christmases past and doing their best to recreate those fond memories abroad. Many travel home, and you can bet the ones who don’t are looking for all their favorite holiday fixings—everything from classic decorations to homemade turkey stuffing. The most effective campaigns will play off this emotional attachment.
  • Expats travel further, and for longer. You’d think companies would have found ways to squeeze every last cent out of the holiday travel market by now… but they haven’t! Few expats purchase travel insurance for their holiday trips, for example, because they’re unaware they need it. On top of that they have a hard time finding products offering good value for money.

Perhaps most importantly, though, you needn’t be all things to all expats (that’s why we call it a niche!). In some cases a single sub-segment may give your holiday business a lift all on its own.

Take small businesses like Kelly’s Expat Shopping. The family-owned business distinguishes itself from retailers like Amazon by only selling national specialties that are hard to find abroad. In an interview with Expat Marketing, Jason Kelly reports that during Christmas time revenues spike 25%. “People want to recreate their memories of the holiday at home with the people around them,” he said. “It’s the same for us really, we do that with my parents.”

So zero in on one or two emotionally-charged products or services needed by a specific group of expats. You’ll soon find yourself with a solid base of seasonal customers, regardless of whether your product’s under the tree.

If you are interested in targeting expats, read this article on Expat Advertising.