As the retail rush to reveal their respective festive performances on the Christmas card front, the run up to Christmas 2017 was erratic, last minute and rather troublesome. And this was echoed by performance at John Lewis as greeting card (and stationery) buyer Lisa Rutherford summed up: “It’s tough out there and we felt that the run up to Christmas was slow, but when our customers were ready they certainly went for it.”
As to the lateness of the consumer buying patterns, Lisa added, “It’s more and more important to hold your nerve. Without exception, 2017 showed that all calendar events are coming later and later in terms of customer buying patterns. It’s not unusual to be generating 35/45% of sales in the few days before the event.”
Lisa feels that the 2017 consumer buying patterns were undoubtedly affected by Black Friday, which did boost footfall, but she also notes “we also need to be ready for the post Black Friday lull which still feels a bit uncomfortable but expected before the frenzy of Christmas finally kicks in.”
John Lewis’ sales of single Christmas card sales ended up 7% down on last year, which Lisa admits is “disappointing” but given the wide choice and pricing activity in the wider market she said accepted the performance, “especially as we did not participate in any multi buys or promotional activity in this category at all.”
Sales of boxed Christmas cards at John Lewis meanwhile were up 4%, which exceeded expectations. As Dan Cooper, John Lewis’ Christmas buyer explained to PG Buzz: “We did not take any money off before Christmas Day, so this increase was fully achieved through full-priced sales.”
However the sales uplift was not across the board with Dan revealing that sales of the department store group ‘cello packs’ cards “were down double digits”. Dan said this decline was expected, but admits that it was “more pronounced than anticipated”.
However the dip was largely due to branded cellopacks as JLP’s own brand cellos were up 80%.
As to the possible reasons for this disparity of sales, Dan suggests that maybe it is branded publishers give about 10% of the retail value to charity whereas the John Lewis own brand packs sees donations of 25% of the retail price being made to the charities in question. As to his plans for Christmas 2018, Dan believes further growth is on the cards. “We will still be growing sales of cards overall but investing more in own brand boxed cards. Our customers are buying fewer, better cards.”
And as with Lisa, Dan echoed the impact of Black Friday on seasonal sales, with the event “creating an ever longer vacuum in sales starting mid-November and extending into early December. The sales come, but later. This year customers purchased much later due to the fall of Christmas after a full weekend.”
* Other John Lewis ‘greeting card news’ sees Lizzie Batchelar promoted to assistant buyer for stationery, taking over from Amie Scull who is on a sabbatical. Prior to this, Lizzie was the buying assistant for stationery. Her remit is cards, wrap and seasonal eventing (excluding Christmas). Lizzie has worked for John Lewis for three years and before this she worked for Jamie Oliver as part of his marketing team. Lisa says: “Lizzie brings pace and energy to her role. Her passion for product is exciting and she will add real value to our assortments.”