Christmas reports: John Lewis, No.14 Ampthill, Stationery Supplies, Presentation

Seasonal musings and 2023 hunches from four leading greeting card retailers

 

Single card sales held up well but the postal strikes had a dampening effect on many retailers’ boxed card sales in what was most definitely a Christmas trading period like no other, but the season was saved by a frenzied flurry in the final run up.

In the third of the series, PG Buzz shares some of the festive feelings of greeting card retailers and their hunches as they start the new year. This time round it’s John Lewis, No.14 Ampthill, Stationery Supplies, and Presentation

Above: There was plenty of Christmas colour at John Lewis
Above: There was plenty of Christmas colour at John Lewis

Claire Taylor, buyer of greeting cards, stationery and gifting for John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners

What’s your verdict?

“Nail biting.”

Spill the beans…

“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 3% up on last year against all odds with the final week performing 53% up on previous year.”

Did you do anything differently this year with your approach to Christmas trade?

“We are trialling a markdown of our Christmas cards for the first time this year to minimise the amount of stock we send to be recycled…early signs are that we are almost out of stock online already.”

Above: John Lewis’ Claire Taylor is cautiously optimistic – pictured with House of Cards’ Miles Robinson
Above: John Lewis’ Claire Taylor is cautiously optimistic – pictured with House of Cards’ Miles Robinson

What changes in consumer buying patterns did you track?

“We found our online only higher price points performed well early on in the season with our most organised customers buying into intricate pop-ups and keepsakes in advance. However, trade generally came much later in the day than the previous two years when the threat of lockdowns and Christmas apart from family prompted a much earlier buying pattern.”

Your hunch and approach for 2023?

“I feel cautiously optimistic about 2023. There are a number of changes we are looking to make for Christmas 2023 to give the launch of Christmas more impact across our store estate.”

Above and top: There’s snow business like the retail business at Christmas, as No.14 Ampthill shows
Above and top: There’s snow business like the retail business at Christmas, as No.14 Ampthill shows

Jo Barber, No.14, Ampthill

What’s your verdict?

“Phew!”

Spill the beans…

“One word to sum up Christmas would be phew! Phew because it was much busier than we’d anticipated, phew because getting web orders delivered was super stressful, and phew because we unexpectedly made up our YTD shortfall despite the well-publicised strikes and general negativity in the media.

Above: "Phew!" was Jo Barber's verdict
Above: “Phew!” was Jo Barber’s verdict

“The quantity of single cards we sell always surprises me, we sold over 4,000 which was slightly up on the previous year. One customer spent over £120 on a selection of single cards for husband, daughter, nephew, neighbour, etc and, although it’s a lot of money, if it means connecting with those you love, it’s money well spent. One card title we saw a decline in was Across The Miles, not sure if the earlier posting dates caught people out so they decided not to bother.”

What changes in consumer buying patterns did you track?

“We noticed more customers asking for charity packs compared to previous years. Could this be a sign for Christmas 2023? It’s highly likely we’ll stock just charity packs next year; it would be great if more publishers offered them.

Did you do anything differently this year with your approach to Christmas trade?

“Fearful of an underperforming fourth quarter we began sending a weekly newsletter to our customers. We upgraded to a more expensive marketing platform, but deleted email addresses that just weren’t engaging with us, so it’s actually saved us money. We noticed a huge increase in web orders on the day the newsletter landed.”

Above: Dandelion did well with Christmas cards as well as this winter birthday design at No.14
Above: Dandelion did well with Christmas cards as well as this winter birthday design at No.14

What were your top performers?

“Christmas card packs sold well, notably charity packs from Artbeat. Our best-selling Christmas card singles came from Janie Wilson, Molly Mae and Dandelion Stationery.”

Your hunch and approach for 2023?

“As we head into 2023, I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say I was nervous, but I know we have a welcoming environment, selling great products at a fair price and, with one twelfth of the population having a birthday every month, I reckon we’ll be fine!”

Above: One of the delighted young winners of Stationery Supplies’ Design A Christmas Card competition
Above: One of the delighted young winners of Stationery Supplies’ Design A Christmas Card competition

Sarah Laker, owner of Stationery Supplies, Marple and Wilmslow

Above: Sarah Laker's happy with a shop local Christmas
Above: Sarah Laker’s happy with a shop local Christmas

What’s your verdict?

“A shop local Christmas.”

Spill the beans…

“We had our best-yet Christmas Eve in Marple with so many customers 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, while sales in my Wilmslow shop were 9% down. Card sales in Marple for November and December were 4% up on 2021 and 24% up compared to 2019, the last pre-pandemic year.”

What impact do you think the Royal Mail strikes had on your sales?

“Our sales of mailing products were definitely impacted by the Royal Mail strikes with sales of envelopes, bubble wrap, boxes etc, 50% down in December compared to the year previous.”

Did you do anything differently this year with your approach to Christmas trade?

“Customers started asking for Christmas cards in September so I put them out earlier than normal, however, sales didn’t really kick in until after Bonfire Night.”

Above: Stationery Supplies sold a record near-400 of its Marple charity calendar, donating £1 from each to Friends of Marple Memorial Park
Above: Stationery Supplies sold a record near-400 of its Marple charity calendar, donating £1 from each to Friends of Marple Memorial Park

What changes in consumer buying patterns did you track?

“Customers started shopping earlier so I saw steady sales in both shops during December and November, rather than a sudden rush at the end.

“Our pen sales were up 40% and our notebook sales were up 80%, reflecting that customers were thinking more about how useful the present was going to be for the receiver.

“Customers were looking for recyclable wrapping options especially wrap without cello and recyclable paper tape. My first order of recyclable Christmas paper tape was for 96 rolls and I thought I’d over ordered, however, I ended up selling twice that.”

What were your top performers?

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 from Alljoy went down an absolute storm.”

Your hunch and approach for 2023?

“I think ‘uneasy’ sums up my feelings about 2023. I think the cost-of-living crisis will hit during January when people are facing heating bills from the extreme cold snap we had in December, followed by their credit card bills. I’m going very steady on the buying, keeping an eye on my budget at all times.”

Above: Inside Presentation in the festive run up
Above: Inside Presentation in the festive run up

Andrea Pinder, owner of Presentation Cards & Gifts, Barrowford

What’s your verdict?

“Bingo!”

Spill the beans…

“Charity packs all sold through with very little left at the end. Boxed cards did well although purchases were slightly less than previous years. Counter cards sold well, 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. Across The Miles cards didn’t sell, one caption that has declined in popularity over the past few years.

Above: Andrea Pinder had a good festive season
Above: Andrea Pinder had a good festive season

“Our gift sales were up 5% year on year, and 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 used the Royal Mail strikes as an excuse not to send cards.

“I was disappointed to receive Merry Christmas emails from my suppliers whereas in years gone by I’ve always been sent Christmas cards – we’re supposed to be promoting the sending of cards after all! They could have included them in with the orders especially as we had Spring Season deliveries during Christmas week.

“However, one of my agents did travel from Cheshire to deliver my order and a parcel, also one from Yorkshire delivered a card by hand, which was lovely.”

Did you do anything differently this year with your approach to Christmas trade?

“We put our Christmas cards out on display in in the first week of October. We offered a free giftwrapping service, just suggesting customers make a donation to Rosemere Cancer Foundation, with us raising over £1,000 in 2022.”

Above: Ling Design’s boxes performed well for Presentation
Above: Ling Design’s boxes performed well for Presentation

What were your top performers?

“Our bestselling counter cards included those from Five Dollar Shake, Janie Wilson, Paperlink, Pigment’s Fox & Butler, Rosie Made A Thing and Wendy Jones-Blackett’s Quick Silver. Our boxed cards’ top performers were from Abacus, Belly Button Designs, Five Dollar Shake and Ling Design while our bestselling charity packs were from Abacus, Paperlink and Rosie Made A Thing.”

Your hunch and approach for 2023?

“I’m so looking forward to seeing what my suppliers have to offer. Quality, design and cost will remain very important to any independent business, given overheads have increased hugely with energy prices etc. I will be spending my budgets wisely. Here’s to a successful 2023.”

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