While Royal Mail strikes dampened box sales, single cards were up for many
“I guess if there was one word to sum up Christmas, it would be ‘phew’!” stated No.14 Ampthill owner Jo Barber, echoing the relief of many greeting card retailers that, against the odds, the festive trade delivered.
While Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day was the 2022 anthem for some greetings retailers – Mooch Gift & Home and Hugs & Kisses were among those who reported their best festive season yet – the postal strikes did hurt boxed card numbers and slashed stamp sales.
Many were like Earlybird Designs’ co-owner Heidi Early, who reported “single card sales were up again”, and Postmark’s co-owner Mark Janson-Smith saw a “big increase in relations cards which we put down to a far better offering along with many people buying more cards for the people they would actually be seeing in person”.
Sharing this positivity, Taunton-based Jane Armour Trading had a “fabulously busy December”, the best for three years after building works which had hindered access to the small Riverside Place shopping area were finally removed in November.
Jane told PG Buzz: “Building works behind the shop have cut it off from passing trade since August 2019, and the week of Christmas Eve has, in the past, been the quietest of December for us – not this year! This year it has been the busiest with some seriously dedicated shopping taking place.
“Three and a quarter years ago it was like a tap being turned off. The day it re-opened, it was as though the tap was being turned back on!
“To all our regular customers, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your continued support. To all the returning customers who found their way back to us when the footpaths were reopened a few weeks ago – welcome back, it’s been a delight to see you again.”
It was the same single cards doing well against lower pack sales at Mooch Gifts & Home in Stourport and Bewdley, where the final three days pre-Christmas were the “busiest in our seven years of trading” according to co-owner Jon May, which he was very pleased about as December had been “pretty flat” after an early rush of festive shoppers in November.
“Just wow!” was the verdict from Caroline Ranwell, owner of Hugs & Kisses in Tettenhall, having experienced the shop’s “best-ever Christmas” despite the postal strikes and moving many of her bigger ticket items to her newly-opened clothing boutique.
“It’s absolutely amazing that, despite these two factors, our sales were considerably up on the previous year and, after all the doom and gloom on the news over the last few months, it feels great to have had such a good Christmas.
“Even though we have had a brilliant Christmas the Royal Mail strikes have still affected us, I was horrified to see how many boxes of Christmas cards we have left, I do usually get this spot on but, unfortunately, this year we have a huge amount left – fingers crossed my Christmas sale will move most of them. The postal strikes also really affected my online sales, but I do think in another way it also drove customers to shop local and so helped counter card and gift sales in the shop.”
On the big boys’ front, Abi Wilson, Sainsbury’s head of buying and design for celebrations which includes greeting cards, confirmed: “Cards performed well but, as ever, it was right to the finish line. We had a strong start, and were confident in range, but saw huge variances in customer spending behaviours as everyone has been carefully considering where their spend was needed most.”
And Claire Taylor, John Lewis & Partners’ buyer of greeting cards, stationery and gifting, admitted: “As demand softened through November and early December, we thought we might have a particularly rocky ride. However, customers chose to beat the postal strikes and hand deliver cards to their loved ones over the festive period resulting in a huge surge in the final two weeks. We finished the event at 3% up on last year against all odds, with the final week performing 53% up on last year.”
John Lewis is also trialling a markdown of Christmas cards for the first time to minimise the amount of stock sent for recycling, and Claire said: “Early signs are that we’re almost out of stock online already.”
Gift sales were up 5% year-on-year at Presentation Cards & Gifts in Barrowford as the store benefited from customers suffering online delivery delays, and owner Andrea Pinder also said her charity packs all sold through and boxed cards did well, though slightly less than previous years.
“Counter cards sold well,” Andrea added, “however, where some customers in the past have chosen several cards and titles for families this proved to be less. Buying one card to cover all the family was popular.
“We noticed a lot of new customers coming into our village from neighbouring villages wanting to shop local, more so with independents than with High Street multiples. Sadly, I did sense some people were a bit reluctant to send cards via Royal Mail due to deliveries which was an excuse for some people not to send cards.”
Stationery Supplies owner Sarah Laker’s verdict was that 2022 was “a shop local Christmas” as her Marple store recorded its “best-ever Christmas Eve”, and she said: “So many customers were coming in saying how they wanted to support local shops especially as they realised through my social media how important independent retail is for the local community.
“I was hoping to end up on a par with 2021 over November and December. Interestingly, I was 4% up overall in my Marple shop, however, sales in my Wilmslow shop were 9% down. Strong areas for me in both shops were pens, notebooks, paper tape and the local charity calendar we produce. Card sales in Marple for November and December were 4% up on 2021 and 24% up when compared to 2019, the last pre-pandemic year.
“The Art File charity packs were popular with our customers, they especially liked the addition of the Motor Neurone Disease charity. In our Wilmslow shop the Message In A Bottle Christmas cards by Alljoy went down an absolute storm.”
Disappointing Christmas box sales at Southbourne Cards in Dorset were balanced out by an increase in average spend, as owner Deborah Tingay explained: “That was our saving grace, with higher-priced items performing well so we ended up on a par in December compared to 2021 so I’m feeling pretty chuffed with that all things considered.”
And at Just Cards in Honiton, owner Maggie Wynn was pleased to report: “We came out on par with our expectations before all the strikes and energy crisis was announced. I think the price of petrol and parking as well as the train strikes, people shopped local rather than going into the city.
“We did it against all the negativity and Royal Mail strikes – it all worked out really well. There was a lot riding on how the final weeks trading went, but we were busy all the way through to the end.”
Top: Wizzard’s festive tune I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day may not have rung true for all card retailers!