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The advent of tradition

Chocolate treats ignored as calendar sales rise and single cards beat festive packs

 

Advent calendars have been making a real comeback with indie retailers pretty much selling out of stock as customers made a date with the traditional versions.

Interestingly, the lure of the chocolate treat behind the wee door appears to be paling – as Cards & Gifts Dronfield’s Carl Dunne has discovered, admitting: “We sell all chocolate and I’m going to get fat on what I have left over!”

Above & top: Carl Dunne has gone all out for Christmas – but has a surfeit of chocolate advent calendars
Above & top: Carl Dunne has gone all out for Christmas – but has a surfeit of chocolate advent calendars

With just a couple weeks to go until the big day, there’s still a lot to play for on the Christmas trading front, and indies have been stirring up the festive feeling, Carl feels his overall sales are down so far “but over the last few days it’s definitely kicked in”.

In addition to the rise in traditional advents, the general feedback is that 3D designs are leading the trend for something different, single cards are beating pack sales, charity cards are still popular, and specialist captions have been hitting the spot – while the price of stamps is a topic of conversation, although people recognise the value of second class at 75p.

Continuing the series, PG Buzz gets a more detailed lowdown on the current state of Christmas card sales from a trio of indie greeting card retailers. Today it’s the turn of Cards & Gifts, Universal Office Equipment, and Cards And Gift Wrap

Above: Charity cards like these from Ling and Clare Maddicott are customers’ favourites at Cards & Gifts
Above: Charity cards like these from Ling and Clare Maddicott are customers’ favourites at Cards & Gifts

Carl Dunne, Cards & Gifts, Dronfield

What’s the balance in sales in your shop between single cards and packs?

“Singles are always going to outsell packs, it’s the captions. Packs are all well and good for work colleagues or parties where you’re just giving them out to all, but the captions make it special and those are the bestsellers.

“I’d also say that some of this year’s packs aren’t as good as pervious years when it comes to style. I think publishers need to have a serious look at redesign for the future and work out how to make cards amazing and more sustainable – ban glitter I’m sick of vacuuming!”

Are charity packs more popular than other packs?

“Yes, people want to give a card and support a charity so it makes them feel like they’re doing the kind thing at Xmas. Many people are saying ‘I’m not sending cards this year, I’m going to donate to charity’, so we point out they can do that, support retailers and the charity by sending charity cards instead.”

Any particular captions or trends coming through?

“Grandparents appear to be going woke! Less of the granddaughter and grandson, and more of grandchild or children – has gender identity finally conquered the silver spenders? It looks like it!”

Have customers cut back due to postage costs? 

“People are definitely hand delivering more. People recall the Scout Christmas post as being great, for example, but many have said they’re sending less because of the cost of stamps and can’t believe that Royal Mail isn’t doing something specifically to make sending festive cards cheaper, like a month’s reduction in price or stamps bought in a card shop are cheaper if they are definitely for Christmas cards, or even Christmas envelopes with lower pre-paid postage.”

Do you sell stamps, and how are sales compared with previous years?

“Yes, and we’ve had to switch to cash only for this as the cost of paying for stamps by debit or credit card actually wipes out the pence of profit due to bank transaction charges. We’re about 80% down on last year’s stamp sales and second class is definitely the seller, we’ve not sold any first-class stamps for days!”

How did your advent calendar sales go?

“We sell all chocolate and I’m going to get fat on what I have left over! This one was a real pain for me as last year I sold out and could have sold 10 more cases so this year I ordered an extra 10 cases alas, my bedroom is filled with 10 cases of advent calendars! Couldn’t figure this one out as I was cheaper that Poundstretcher, Sainsbury’s and was posting on socials constantly. We had the last-minute run on them on the 30th, 1st and 2nd but I have a lot left over.”

And how are festive season sales going in general?

“Over the last two days it’s definitely kicked in but it’s easy to see that we’re down. We’re at least £2k short a week at the moment which is a serious worry as Clintons, close by, say the same as does Poundstretcher. It’s weird in an affluent place like this that sales are dropping.  Save our High Street, save independent traders, shop local!”

Above: There are eight busy post offices in the Universal Office Equipment group, all selling greeting cards
Above: There are eight busy post offices in the Universal Office Equipment group, all selling greeting cards

Elliot Jacobs, Universal Office Equipment

post office network in Camden, Crouch End, East Finchley, Hertford, Muswell Hill, Potters Bar, Stoke Newington and Ware

What’s the balance in your shops between single cards and packs? 

“Single cards and packs are very different target markets, we sell a lot of both, usually the early phase of Christmas is more about packs and the later period swings to the singles.”

Are charity packs more popular than other packs? 

“It doesn’t seem to make a huge impact in the sales volumes – but it’s great to support a good cause!”

Any particular captions or trends coming through? 

“Merry Christmas!”

Have customers cut back due to postage costs? 

“Our sales are tracking about the same volume as last year – but it’s this week that is the big one for sending!”

Do you sell stamps, and how are sales compared with previous years?

“We do. I can’t share that data as it is Royal Mail/Post Office confidential.”

And how are festive season sales going in general? 

“Up on last year and currently on track for our forecast. We have adjusted our range to be more eco and cost-conscious and that seems to be being well received.”

Above: Greetings subscription boxes and own-brand paper tape are doing well at Cards And Gift Wrap
Above: Greetings subscription boxes and own-brand paper tape are doing well at Cards And Gift Wrap

Janet Ross-Jordan, Cards And Gift Wrap, Isle Of Lewis

What’s the balance in your shop/online between single cards and packs?

“Both are still selling well but there’s a definite shift towards single cards. People are sending less cards but sending more elaborate ones. I’ve seen a huge increase particularly at local fairs in single relation cards.”

Are charity packs more popular than other packs?

“Definitely. That has been my experience for years. All my Christmas cards are charity cards in that I donate a percentage of all festive sales of packs and singles, including advent cards, to my local Western Isles Cancer Care Initiative, who support people living here in the Outer Hebrides with things like transport for someone to accompany them to appointments and treatments on the mainland as the NHS doesn’t cover this, and no one should have to go through that alone, away from home. As well as sourcing cards from suppliers I actually designed my own Christmas cards this year from which all profits will be going to WICCI. These are available locally in both English and Gaelic.”

Any particular captions or trends coming through?

“I designed Gaelic Christmas cards for the first time this year and the demand was higher than I anticipated. Wildlife is always popular, robins will always be a favourite on Christmas cards and post boxes, but maybe that’s just my trend?”

Have customers cut back due to postage costs? 

“I sense people are sending fewer cards but taking time to choose the cards they are sending. Instead of a ritual of sending quick cards to everyone in their address book there seems to be more thought going in to who they’re sending to and what they’re sending.”

Do you sell stamps, and how are sales compared with previous years?

“I do sell stamps and sales have been slower than previous years. I could write a whole screed on postage stamps and how I think Royal Mail is trying to kill off card sending but that’s not what you want for this!

“This year’s Christmas stamps are beautiful – apart from the barcodes – and it’s a shame fewer of them will be dropping on to people’s doormats. I did design some paper tape for wrapping in a postage stamp design with no barcodes and it’s been a real hit. So, while actual postage stamp sales are down, my tape stamp sales are very healthy!”

Above: Bestsellers for Janet have been Ling’s advent cards and her own Gaelic captions
Above: Bestsellers for Janet have been Ling’s advent cards and her own Gaelic captions

How did your advent calendar sales go?

“There has been a definite increase in advent calendar cards sales. And why not because, if you send advent cards, you have to send them before the end of November and just think how ahead of the game you feel then!

“! only sell traditional advent calendars both full size and cards. Traditional advent calendars are what Christmas memories are made of. I’ve sold a lot more than usual but sales of the card versions are definitely outstripping the full size. I think the cost of postage for a small parcel, which is what most full-size advent calendars fall under, has put many off posting advents. But. with sales of single cards on the increase and people wanting to send single cards that are special, the advent calendar card market is booming.

“I was worried I’d overstocked but then had to reorder in November. And, despite being the first week into December I’m still getting orders online for advents. Either people are late or they’re super organised for next year! “

And how are festive season sales going in general?

“Very strong. While packs of cards might not be what they were years ago, the drive for eco-friendly, quality gift wrapping is on the increase as are creative gifts like jigsaws and craft kits. Christmas pudding chocolate has been very popular!

“I’ve also seen an increase in subscription box sales which has surprised me as these tailed off post-pandemic but both my gift wrapping and greetings card subscriptions have been making popular gifts this season.”

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