While perhaps not a humdinger, Christmas trade for cardies was much 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.
In the first in a series of Retailer Revelations, Paul Taylor, md of Cardzone; John Procter, co-founder of Scribbler and Mark Janson-Smith, md of Postmark share their Christmas trade reports.
Paul Taylor, managing director of Cardzone:
How did it go? “Overall a better than expected performance with footfall only 3% down over the six week period.
Christmas singles performed very well for us across most stores, with sales up by 4%. Traditional high coded cards traded extremely well with very strong sales in the last few days up to Christmas.
Packaged product was not so good with our sales down by 9%, but charity cards are continuing to increase.
Our sales of gift dressings were slightly down like-for-like partly due to some buying mistakes.
Changing buying habits? “Shoppers were certainly buying into the special Christmas single titles.”
Star performers? “Traditional designs really come into their own for us at Christmas with UKG, Jonny Javelin, IC&G, Hallmark and Carte Blanche performing well. On a less traditional front, Emotional Rescue’s sales were good too.”
Buying plans for Christmas 2020? “We realise we got some of our buying wrong in that we did not have enough choice on the charity front something we will be addressing for 2020.”
John Procter, co-founder of Scribbler
How did it go? “Overall, though the numbers are not quite finalised, we were up by around 3-5%. However some of this was due to an uplift in our everyday card sales (which increased 5% over the Christmas period). Our Christmas singles sales were flat, Christmas pack sales were down 10%, giftwrappings were down 10% while our gift sales were up by 10%.
We reckon that the constant rain in December will have cost us between 5%-10% of sales as we were actually on course to have a very strong Christmas performance.”
Changing buying habits? “There has been a seismic shift in attitudes towards sustainability and global warming which are significant issues that we, as an industry, have to acknowledge. These attitudes will continue to impact sales, especially over the Christmas period.
Our customers are increasingly aware of the damage caused, for example, by excessive packaging, cello bags and plastic gifts from China that serve no purpose.
They will simply vote with their feet as they are confronted daily on the news with the bush fires in Australia that are the result of three years of drought devastating the country, floods in Jakarta and even a solid month of rain in the UK.
Add to this the not so subtle messages from the media who have been inferring that greetings via social media are ‘greener’.
We need to take note and ensure that we try to offer sustainable products in 2020 by accelerating naked cards and reducing packaging in general.
Challenging times but our customers still love the humour and irreverence that we provide – maybe it takes their minds off the bigger picture – roll on Valentines Day!!
The price of stamps doesn’t really help either!”
Star performers? “Our own brand products sold well as ever as did higher priced singles and anything made of craft paper.”
Buying plans for Christmas 2020? “We’ll probably reduce our Christmas card offer a little and Christmas packaging significantly.”
Mark Janson-Smith, managing director of Postmark, four stores in London:
How did it go? “Despite all the doom and gloom and the noticeable struggle in retail, we are delighted to say we managed to increase our sales, not by much and by some careful price increases as well as making sure the shops remained different and fresh, but looking back we are very happy with what we achieved in our 15th year!
The Christmas period got off to a slow and steady start but finished strongly. Our Christmas product sales finished 3.5% up while the stores as a whole finished 5% so we managed to maximise customer spend while they were in store. We find that making sure we have a strong everyday offering out in the winter months really makes a difference.
Our Christmas pack sales were nearly identical in volume and value as 2018, selling just 100 more packs this year than last. Singles continue to grow and we were 8.5% up on this category as customers continue to spend more on fewer cards.
The election definitely helped to boost sales. This year has had a political cloud over it and I feel consumers needed this out of the way before they could really get in the Christmas mood. The weekend after the election result was our busiest ever.”
Changing buying habits? “We definitely saw a trend towards the environment and this will only continue to grow. The most noticeable being in gift wrapping. Our plain brown paper which we had doubled in volume this year had sold out before the middle of December.
Star performers? “Rosie Made A Thing was extremely strong again as the humour offering for Christmas is very limited. The Art File, as always, performed well in both packs and singles. Other strong performers on the packs front were Woodmansterne and Museums & Galleries’ more traditional Christmas offerings.
Our other top single performers included Jaz and Baz from Portfolio, Redback’s Shine and Cloud Nine, Alljoy with its Christmas decorations and MoMA dominated our online sales but they are quite tricky to display in store.”
Buying plans for Christmas 2020? “We will be seeking new environmentally-friendly products for 2020, probably our biggest challenge for the coming year.”
Top: Cardzone’s Paul Taylor, Scribbler’s John Procter and Postmark’s Mark Janson-Smith.