Festively positive retailer vibes

The #Cardmitment campaign did its stuff to boost Christmas sending

 

A positive vibe has been coming from greeting card retailers of all shapes and sizes as they report back on their festive jingle tills.

Christmas 2023 has turned out to be pretty good in most quarters, with everyone confirming that sales have been at least slightly up on the difficult previous year, and many bouncing back nicely.

PG has been doing the rounds of national chains, supermarkets, small chains and indies to find out exactly what went on in the greeting card retail world. In the first of a series, we hear from Earlybird, Cardzone, Scribbler and Lark

Above & top: Team Earlybird showed off their hot picks on social media
Above & top: Team Earlybird showed off their hot picks on social media

Heidi Early, co-owner of Earlybird, Stoke Newington, London

Christmas verdict: “A good solid Christmas.”

Reveal all: “We saw a 3% increase in like-for-like sales, which we’re very happy about. At our peak we sold over 600 stamps within a few days, which was unprecedented!

“All our card pack sales were up, but charity ones saw the biggest rise with a whopping 16% increase. And, while our single card sales remained level, we actually saw an 8% increase in revenue as the trend for customers spending more on individual cards continued.

“You’d think that after 20 years of being in retail I might have lost the flying by the seat of my pants feel retailers get when entering the Christmas period but no, I still get it every year! But it was a good solid Christmas.

“I don’t compare to the pandemic and pre-pandemic anymore because I think we’re in completely new territory. The world has changed, retail has changed but, thankfully, this year people remembered they still love cards!! And I really think the industry’s #Cardmitment campaign made a difference.”

Above: Heidi Early has been extolling the virtues of sustainability
Above: Heidi Early has been extolling the virtues of sustainability

Your approach: “At Earlybird we worked really hard, along with the most amazing group of independent retailers who are part of the Xmas Cardies WhatsApp group, to really bang the Christmas card and second-class stamp drum.

“After last year’s disaster with the postal strikes and the increase in postage costs and the comments we heard on the street about not bothering to send many, if any, Christmas cards this year we were really apprehensive about how this season would turn out.

Hunch for 2024: “I am going into 2024 feeling so much more positive than I did this time last year. I’m really excited for the trade shows, I think there will be a great buzz and I can’t wait to catch up with our indie cardie group and see what else we can work on this year to keep banging the greeting card drum because we cannot let up.”

Above: Cardzone now has 18 stores trading as Mooch, 14 of which were new openings in 2023
Above: Cardzone now has 18 stores trading as Mooch, 14 of which were new openings in 2023

James and Paul Taylor, directors of Cardzone

Trading from 183 stores, including 18 under its Mooch fascia and 15 Yankee Candle/gift stores

Christmas verdict: “Satisfactory but not as good as we’d have hoped for.”

Reveal all: “We were roughly on a par with last year on both Christmas single cards and boxed assortments/charity packs. Seasonal gift dressings performed strongly, up around 10%. Our higher-coded cards performed well on key titles and we feel additional choice on this from suppliers would be welcome as these sell very well in the final couple of weeks.

“Single boxed cards also performed strongly late on which was encouraging given the higher cost of these. Overall, we made a good start on Christmas singles throughout October, however, these were clearly far smaller numbers. Sales then dipped a bit through November and the early part of December, but then finished strongly in the final week or so pre-Christmas.”

Buying patterns: “Some customers commented that, given the price of postage, they would be sending far fewer Christmas single cards this year while others definitely didn’t buy as many boxed assortments or charity packs which was evident with the performance of our 3 for 2 offer on boxed and charity packs in Mooch.

“We definitely felt consumers didn’t buy into our in-law cards in the same way as previously. This has always been a growing area for us but, presumably, customers opted for a cheaper, more generic alternative.”

Your approach: “We had a bigger range of boxed assortments this year and some great value options to help with the cost-of-living, our charity pack selection was smaller but still performed reasonably well.

“We kept seasonal giftware to a minimum this year and focused on core everyday ranges which will sell into the new year.

“The only difference in 2023 was our stronger focus on selling through a higher proportion of carryover stock from previous years and being more sensible with initial allocations of new stock. We’re confident this has worked well and we will enter 2024 far cleaner on Christmas carryover stocks.

“In our new Mooch locations we tried to push the importance of sending a card in our window messaging initially, which looked good. We did, however, have to update this to a more promotional message to drive traffic.”

Star performers:UKG performed strongly with such an extensive range of beautiful higher-coded products. Regrettably, there isn’t really too much new comparable product out there which competes with UKG on this front currently. Nigel Quiney’s and Words ’N’ Wishes’ Christmas ranges also sold through nicely.

Ling performed well in certain stores, which was encouraging, and Paper Rose filled some good options across lower codes and minor titles which were needed. Hallmark and Carte Blanche single boxed products also sold well for us.”

Hunch for 2024: “As a team we’re feeling motivated and optimistic for 2024. There have been a lot of learnings from 2023 which will help our performance moving into the new year. One thing’s for sure, customers still absolutely love Christmas and that tradition will hopefully never change!”

Above: Scribbler’s brand of humour works on local marketing too
Above: Scribbler’s brand of humour works on local marketing too

John Procter, co-founder of Scribbler

Christmas verdict: “Brilliant – beyond expectations.”

Reveal all: “We had really strong sales across cards and gifts that were even better than pre-Covid –all back to full strength!

“Our pack sales were fantastic as were singles with more generic captions, such as ‘our house to your house’ and ‘special friend’, selling well. We worked a lot on our relations selection and were delighted by the response.

“Other than a bit in London, thankfully, the train strikes didn’t seem to affect sales that much at all.”

Your approach: “Our strategy of not discounting any cards or gifts pre-Christmas paid off. Customers also responded very positively to our plastic-free approach on boxed cards.

Star performers: “On boxes our own designs performed very well as did those from Five Dollar Shake and Museums & Galleries.

“On singles, our own edgy humour sold well as did designs from Objectables, Brainbox Candy, Sooshichacha and Redback.

Hunch for 2024: “Feeling really positive and we’re back in expansion mode, looking to open five or six more stores this year.”

Above: Lark’s new Esher store, and The Art File sold well
Above: Lark’s new Esher store, and The Art File sold well

Priya Aurora-Crowe, co-owner of Lark

Christmas verdict: “Chaos!”

Reveal all: “Card-wise it was better than I had expected as I didn’t order enough Christmas cards to any store and ran out 10 days before Christmas Day!

“Boxed cards did the best for us at Lark, followed by charity card packs then lastly singles.”

Your approach: “We put our stock out later then we should have as we were busy trying to get our Esher shop open in time!”

Star performers:Stormy Knight did very well and so did The Art File.”

Hunch for 2024: “We remain cautious until we see how sales are from January!”

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