Christmas Reports From Waterstones, Red Card And Bailey’s

While not a humdinger, Christmas 2019 trade for cardies was generally better than expected. Continuing a trend of the last few years, higher end captioned single cards performed well while sales of box cards continued to dip for many, with the exception of charity cards. The wet weather in the run-up did dampen sales, but the fact that Christmas Day fell on a Wednesday provided a long weekend boost to trade in the final thrust.

Hazel Walker, senior buyer of Waterstones, Sally Matson, owner of Red Card, Petworth and Penny Bailey, co-owner of Baileys, Ainsdale and Crosby share their Christmas card trade reports.

Hazel Walker, senior buyer for Waterstones:

How did it go?: “We saw double-digit growth on both singles and packaged lines as well as a stronger sell through compared to last year which we’re really pleased with.

On our own brand packaged lines we moved away from cello packs to boxed and maintained unit sales despite the increased retail price – these also had more cards per pack so we like to think our customers saw we were giving them more cards this year!

Single sales beat our plan by 2% – we built the range based on everyday and past seasonal successes to ensure we were offering the strongest selection possible. This included the introduction of around a dozen new suppliers for Christmas which made up 30% of the offer.”

Above: The move away from cello packs, which were displayed on tables in the larger stores, did not dent sales for Waterstones.
Above: The move away from cello packs, which were displayed on tables in the larger stores, did not dent sales for Waterstones.
Above: Hazel Walker, senior buyer of Waterstones is pleased with the double digit growth on Christmas card sales.
Above: Hazel Walker, senior buyer of Waterstones is pleased with the double digit growth on Christmas card sales.

Sally Matson, owner of Red Card of Petworth:

How did it go?: “Our Christmas trade (single cards, packs of cards, Advent calendars, decorations and wrap and anything else Christmassy) was up 5% on the previous year. This was what I had forecast, so I was really pleased.”

Changing buying habits?: “There is definitely a change in consumer buying patterns connected to environmental concerns, which I am hoping will be matched by publishers and gift suppliers with their launches this year. Our customers want giftwrap and cards that are 100% recyclable, and gifts that are practical and purposeful. People don’t want items that are plastic or wrapped in plastic anymore. This Christmas showed a definite increase in people enquiring about which wrap was recyclable, which crackers didn’t have “plastic rubbish” inside them, and which cards featured biodegradable glitter.”

Mitigating circumstances?: “Our November trade was up 17% on 2018, which was partly due to our attendance at some very successful Christmas fairs, but also I think the unseasonably warm weather in October meant people didn’t really start their Christmas shopping until the colder weather arrived in November. I was surprised but thrilled by this huge increase. December trade was up 6% on last year.

People were nervous about the election, but I don’t think the build up and result really impacted on our business.”

Star performers?: “One of the highlights for me of our Christmas trade at Red Card was the fact that so many of our smaller suppliers produced really beautiful cards that displayed and sold brilliantly. Packs of cards from Laura Stoddart, Jen Rowland, Crumble & Core and Stephanie Davies all sold very well. There was a definite move towards small square cards in the Christmas singles buying, with Blue Eyed Sun, Katie Phythian, James Ellis and Crumble & Core being very popular. Really special single cards from Elena Deshmukh and Stephanie Davies also sold well, and in the large card market Wendy Jones-Blackett again flew out.”

Buying plans for Christmas 2020?: “By Christmas 2020 the environmental issues will be at the forefront of the majority of our customers’ minds when buying and so will have an impact on my buying. I think there are real gaps in the market at the moment for these environmentally-friendly products and the focus for much of my purchasing this year will be in this direction.”

Above: The Red Card festive shopfront, which was on a White Christmas theme.
Above: The Red Card festive shopfront, which was on a White Christmas theme.
Above: (left-right) lovely designs from Laura Stoddart, Elena Deshmukh and Stephanie Davies.
Above: (left-right) lovely designs from Laura Stoddart, Elena Deshmukh and Stephanie Davies.

Penny Bailey, co-owner of Bailey’s Ainsdale and Crosby:

How did it go?: “Overall we are extremely pleased with our Christmas trading 2019. Our Ainsdale store’s greeting cards sales were up by 15%, which way exceeded any expectations.

It was our first Christmas in our Crosby store so we are unable to make any direct comparisons but we are delighted (and a little exhausted) by the response from customers – serving 525 people on our busiest day! It has been a much busier store than Ainsdale from the start and that trend continued through the Christmas trading period. I did make a few panic purchases in the week before Christmas, as we were starting to get big holes in the racks, and am very grateful to the compa​nies who got their orders to me the next day, thank you!”
Changing buying habits?: “We are selling less boxed cards, but I feel people are spending a little more on individual cards for the people most special to them.”

Mitigating circumstances: “We did have some long periods of shocking weather, the general election, and local disappointment in the reduction of the village Christmas lights and their ‘switch ons’ (in both Ainsdale and Crosby) but I don’t think this made much difference.”

Star performers?: “I was taken by surprise at the amount of sentimental wordy cards we sold in Crosby. It’s lovely to see that getting just the right card means so much to most of our customers, even if it’s for the cat or dog!

Thinking of You/Caring Thoughts at Christmas seems to be a growing area and it’s nice to see people recognising that it’s not the happiest time for everyone.

In our non-caption Christmas cards, if it was embellished, it sold. A tassel, a bit of bling, or something 3D seemed to do the trick!

Hallmark scored well across the board, its ranges are improving all the time.

Jonny Javelin and UKG were new to us and I was impressed with the sales, having to reorder at least twice.

And you can’t beat Rosie Made A Thing for humour, while Second Nature had clear winners too.”

Buying plans for Christmas 2020?: “​I’m on the look out for new humour as that does well for us and possibly some more niche titles to make sure we have something for everyone.”

Above: A topical design from UKG.
Above: A topical design from UKG.
Above: Penny Bailey and her husband and business partner Simon with The Retas’ trophy they were awarded last July.
Above: Penny Bailey and her husband and business partner Simon with The Retas’ trophy they were awarded last July.
Above: There was plenty of ‘ho ho ho’ in Bailey’s last Christmas!
Above: There was plenty of ‘ho ho ho’ in Bailey’s last Christmas!

Top: Waterstones’ Hazel Walker, Red Card’s Sally Matson and Bailey’s Penny Bailey.

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