Mrs Postmark (Leona) is a huge fan of Halloween. In fact as I’m writing this she’s happily decorating the house with bats, huge fake spiders, skulls and a whole host of other spooky creatures ahead of our annual Halloween get together with neighbours and friends before we head out ‘trick o treating’ with the kids who share her demonic enthusiasm in equal measure.
I honestly couldn’t understand her passion for it when we first met until she explained that growing up in Ireland Halloween was a really big thing. “American rubbish” I’d say, but of course, as she happily pointed out, I was very wrong. Halloween is in fact deeply rooted in Celtic culture and has its origins in the Irish festival of Samhain, all of which found its way to the US.
She’s got a whole stash of stories about hacking Jack O Lanterns out of turnips (very hard apparently, no pumpkins in Ireland in 1982), wishing for the ring in the Barm Brack and always getting the rag (don’t ask me, it all sounds a bit crazy) and roving around collecting money and sweets dressed in a variety of costumes which seemed to be almost entirely based around a black bin bag sprayed with left over Christmas snow and a cheap plastic mask.
However, her enthusiasm for the 31st of October is a bit infectious and since we’ve had the kids it’s become a very fun time of the year for us. And we don’t seem to be alone. Halloween has really taken off as a calendar event for UK retailers in the last five years, with consumers expected to spend almost £500m on decorations, food and costumes this year alone.*
There still isn’t much call for Halloween cards, and I doubt it’s ever going to be a huge card giving event, but in solidarity with Mrs Postmark’s love of the scary season, this year we decided to stock a very small selection of the cute Pango Halloween cards, which have gone down really well with our customers.
Aside from all the spooking goings on this is also the time of year when many smaller retailers start thinking about putting out Christmas stock. We’re pretty traditional at Postmark and try to wait until the week of November 1, but in the last few years we’ve seen an increase in requests for Christmas stock in some of our shops from about mid-October onwards.
I know for a lot of retailers the decision of when to put out Christmas stock can be really tricky and getting it right is a real art. Go too early and you risk annoying those customers who are fed up with Christmas lasting four months, go too late and you’ll lose out to competitors.
We hold back mainly because that is what the majority of our customers want. They are pretty clear that they’re happy to wait and will actively say how nice it is to come into the shops and not have to look at Christmas in October. However, as already mentioned, there is a small, but significant, number who are asking for Christmas cards, sometimes as early as September.
To help balance all these needs we’ve started to direct any early Christmas shoppers to our website where we open our Christmas shop in late September. Plus, we also keep a selection of Christmas cards to hand for them to browse instore if they ask.
This does mean getting our Christmas orders in and processed as early as we can (late August/early September) but this online/instore division seems to be working well for now. However that’s not to say in future years we won’t find ourselves staggering our Christmas roll out at different dates in different stores to ensure our customers are happy.
Apart from customer feedback, one of the other major reasons we don’t put Christmas stock out until as late as possible is the impact it has on everyday card sales. Shelves packed with Christmas stock may generate interest but unless they are selling through it means less space for everyday items, which people are keener to buy there and then. Getting that fine balance right – gauging the point when a Christmas bay will generate more revenue per day than everyday stock in that same space is always front of mind for me at this time of year.
To my mind, whenever you decide to set the Christmas ball rolling is really down to when you think you can start selling it. For me I’m happy to hold back as long as I can and then see the sales come through right from day one of the roll out. Admittedly, this can be hard to do when you’re facing a stock room full to bursting, but I think it’s a decision customers appreciate it is one that will benefit in the long run.
Halloween may be when you are supposed to be spooked out, but for me ensuring you get Christmas right is far more scary!