It was not the Christmas trading period anyone asked Santa for, but ‘it was what it was’. A trio of greeting card retailers – Scribbler, Postmark and paper Tiger – revealed how they approached the festive run-up, their respective experiences, top performing products as well as their hunches for 2021.
John and Jennie Procter, co-owners of Scribbler:
Verdict? “Frustrating, penalising, S#*t – you choose!”
How did it go? “Impossible to calculate as we had to close so many shops, but based on limited sales data we would have had a very strong performance if we had been allowed to trade.”
Your strategy? “We put out our Christmas cards super early; we focused on generic gifts rather than seasonal ones; we ran major online promotions across all departments and ran more multi-buy options than in previous years.”
Customer buying patterns? “Customers who actually ventured out were really spending, but so many shopped online.”
Top performers? “As ever, single Christmas cards. Games were also very strong.”
Your hunch and approach for 2021? “Ask Boris!! Actually, we are feeling quietly optimistic about 2021 as long as the Government continues to help out and the very few aggressive idiot landlords we have actually pick up a newspaper and see what is going on! Retail overheads are long overdue a shakedown – if this happens the High Street will have a renaissance with great opportunities for the next generation of greeting card and gift entrepreneurs – good luck to them all!
Meanwhile, we are really pleased to be collaborating with Sainsbury’s and are looking forward to growing our wholesale arm.”
Mark Janson-Smith, managing director of Postmark, London-based group of four shops:
How did it go? “We couldn’t get enough packs in and were 13% up year on year on our pack sales, which is incredible considering we lost November store sales. Single card sales ended up pretty much level on the previous year, but we lost the last week of sales on these which is when we normally do a large proportion so no doubt our singles sales would have been considerably up too had we remained open.”
Your strategy? “We put Christmas out a lot earlier which worked well. Customers were coming out less frequently but buying more when they did venture out. Also, our full collection went online for the first time to make up for being closed in November, including roll wrap which we have never offered online before.”
Customer buying patterns? “Consumers were making less trips to the shops than they used to, but buying more when they did. I also feel this was helped by the stores not being as full. You definitely lost customers who don’t want to queue, but for the ones who did, the shopping experience was much nicer than in ‘normal’ years as they had the space to shop.
We definitely noticed a huge shift to more eco-friendly packaging and The Art File’s plastic-free packs were stunning. I don’t think the environment was the consumer’s biggest concern, but I think as an industry we have moved on brilliantly so there was less need for them to actively hunt out more eco options as it was more widely available.”
Top performers? “I just couldn’t get enough boxes of Christmas cards! Museums and Galleries’ products were excellent – our best performers by a mile on packs. We sold out of all our stores’ stock of some designs before we even re-opened, driven a lot by web sales.
The Art File’s plastic-free boxes and trio packs did well as did products from Woodmansterne.
A last minute winner for us was Megan Claire’s Lockdown range which we re-ordered a few times and was absolutely spot on.
We couldn’t get enough rollwrap. Glick flew out and we got Unique in last minute and that flew. Artebene did well too. Our best selling flat wrap came from Rifle which was stunning and sold out pretty quickly across the board.
We offered a lot more eco-friendly wrappings for Christmas which went down well. The paper bows and ribbons were very well received.”
Your hunch and approach for 2021? “Cautiously optimistic! I am very excited about 2021. I feel as long as this is the last lockdown, we can come out all guns blazing when it is lifted and really push on to have a great year.
I don’t think we will hugely change our buying approach for Christmas 2021, we will probably increase our pack purchases again as we are seeing sales of these increasing each year. We will also continue to grow our eco-packaging offering.”
Michael Apter, owner of Paper Tiger, two shops in Edinburgh, Scotland:
How did it go? “People spent more across all categories of Christmas products. We more than doubled our Advent calendar sales on the back of a strong year last year. Family cards also sold well – 50% up overall despite lower footfall in our city centre stores.”
Your strategy? “We put out the displays earlier, promoted it, offered more online and a lot more – our whole team has worked really hard to make the best of difficult circumstances.”
Customer buying patterns? “People shopped earlier, the ‘last minute rush’ was already on the wane and Covid has seen that fall away even more. Environmental concerns were apparent to an extent although the damages to unbagged stock are not sustainable or particularly environmentally-friendly. Compostable cellophane has to become industry standard!”
Top performers? “Family cards from Woodmansterne; boxed cards from The Art File and charity cards across the board, notably Caroline Gardner and Museums & Galleries. Our Advent calendars success was from a broad spectrum of suppliers, including Woodmansterrne, Caspari, Roger la Borde and The Art File.”
Your hunch and approach for 2021? “Evolving, certainly! Covid has accelerated existing patterns of consumer behaviour that we will take on board. Paper Tiger is 40 in 2021. I am very excited about our plans for the year ahead. Edinburgh is still a stunningly beautiful place to visit, and our visitors will return. I also anticipate that many office workers will be back at their desks by late April – I think the novelty of working from home five days a week is wearing thin for many people.”
Top: Santa inside one of the Scribbler stores.