Good planning is vital if you want to make the most of the festive frenzy

Every year consumers bemoan the fact that as soon as September comes, the Christmas lines are out on the supermarket shelves. However, the likes of Tesco and Asda would not give such space over to lines without good reason. And that reason is that people like to see what’s available; they might not all buy it there and then, but they make a mental note and go back later.Many shoppers do start buying early - a roll of giftwrap one week and a bag of gift tags the next - just to stretch the cost of Christmas.
According to Ewen Chisholm, client director at research company HIM, convenience shoppers expect to see Christmas lines in c-stores early on, too. “Display is crucial as while the bulk of sales come in the run-up to Christmas, shoppers need to see that their c-store has a range and will not let them down at the last minute.” He adds that many multiples run out of seasonal lines nearer to Christmas, which gives the organised convenience retailer additional sales as long as their availability is good.
Chisholm believes off-licence lines should be out for mid-November. “Display is essential as the whole value message has been dominated by multiple activity over past couple of years. Sales come very late within the convenience sector, but the ability to show a different offer through various pack sizes has been a saviour for the sector.
“Fewer but better promotions are key, to allow shoppers to see the strength of offer and not just a sea of point of sale around the store.
“When it comes to pricing, it’s best to run with promoted prices through November and December and try to win the shoppers’ confidence through the display and availability of the correct pack sizes. Last year multibuys on wine (three for £10) and half-price offers were the real winners for c-stores.”
He says leaflets and TV advertising play their part, but he still reckons the best approach is to capitalise on the high frequency of visits by convenience shoppers and focus on availability and consistency of offer.
Soft drinks is a category which needs to be out at the beginning of November. Coca-Cola Enterprises shopper marketing manager Kenny Chisholm says: “With frequent soft drinks buyers, the best strategy is to maintain and drive loyalty. To boost sales among occasional buyers, it is important to encourage early purchase with visibility of product displays.
“Research shows that Christmas shopping dynamics are different from any other time of year. Consumers are more likely to spend more to treat themselves, family and guests, and are more likely to buy brands at this time of year.”
When it comes to display, it appears the earlier the better is the case, with PepsiCo advising two months as a minimum. A spokesman says: “Salty snack sales grow at Christmas, as more households buy and spend more on higher value packs. Impulse retailers should ensure they maximise this opportunity in order to experience the success enjoyed in grocery, and ideally seasonal displays of crisps and snack lines should really start to appear about eight to 10 weeks prior to Christmas.”

Treat time
According to Cadbury Cakes brand manager Samantha Bennett, mince pies should be in store from September and other Christmas cakes should be displayed from October onwards.
“Some 85% of Christmas cake sales are incremental to standard all-year-round cakes. This is because Christmas cakes bring new shoppers into the category and access different usage occasions,” explains Bennett. “This means incremental space should be allocated for Christmas cakes, as any cannibalisation of existing space will compromise total category performance. Off-shelf display units are the best way of achieving this as they can be sited in high traffic areas and will prompt impulse purchase.”
But HIM’s Chisholm reckons mince pies shouldn’t be in store until December 1. He says that there should be big bold displays, possibly with multibuy deals as dates are generally good on them and shoppers can stock up. He suggests that a separate display near the cream in the chiller could also boost sales.
And talking of the chiller, HIM’s Chisholm acknowledges that chilled ranges are very last minute within
c-stores because of the short shelf life for both the retailer and the customer. “A phased introduction of these lines is the best approach,” he advises, “and, if you’ve got the room, create a seasonal section within the chiller as this can be really effective. Cheese, cocktail sausage rolls, party snacks and pâtés could be phased in slowly, based on available shelf-life dates, finishing up with turkey crowns.”
He also offers this idea: “Allow customers to pre-order; older people in particular like this sort of service.”
He says the range should be refreshed straight after Christmas, ready for the New Year party season.
Bernard Matthews marketing director Matt Pullen recommends that retailers should stock turkeys from November: “Mid-November tends to be when consumers start to think about their Christmas meal preparations, so we would recommend retailers start stocking frozen turkey options at about that time. Obviously, there is always a peak in the week leading up to Christmas with people who have perhaps been too busy to buy before, or who have just left it until the last minute, so retailers need to bear this in mind and prepare accordingly.
“A convenient addition to the traditional whole turkeys are turkey breast joints. For example, Bernard Matthews Golden Norfolk Turkey Joints and Turkey Crowns appeal to the growing numbers of smaller one- and two-person households and can be easily stocked and merchandised in stores with limited freezer space. They’re also ideal as a main meal for the big day or for other eating occasions across the festive period.”

Finishing touches
When it comes to non-food lines, Chisholm says items like cards, wrapping paper, advent calendars and batteries all need to be out by the end of October.
“My advice is based on the multiples’ activity and shoppers’ buying habits, who expect to see these products. Once again, display and quality are more important than price. Quality is a key part of gifting as shoppers are very selective about things like cards and the images they portray.”
He says products should be displayed within a ‘gifting area’, beside items such as bottle bags and luxury chocolates. “This encourages consumers to trade up and prevents a trip to another store to buy the gift.”
Procter & Gamble trade communications manager Paul Lettice says that with more and more electronic devices being given as gifts, and with almost 40% of battery sales taking place in the final three months of the year, retailers should ensure they are well stocked with batteries, including brand leader Duracell.
“To assist retailers, all suppliers offer a range of eye-catching point-of-sale material and this should be used to create in-store theatre and drive customers to purchase,” he says. “P&G plays its role through its ShelfHelp merchandising and category guide, designed to offer retailers advice to help them boost sales and drive profitability. And this is more relevant than ever across the festive season.”
So it seems that a seasonal display is essential. HIM’s Chisholm who, incidentally, has 20 years’ experience with Spar, says Christmas will work for those retailers who truly make an effort to display their products well. “Phasing is crucial,” he says, “as
c-stores are really up against it when it comes to finding space, both out the front and in the back of their stores. The real winners over the past few years have been the shipper and hod units, which have shown that display works and that it delivers sales. And the good news is that more suppliers have started to sell products in these units as it ensures them individual displays.”
Chisholm finishes with opening hours, saying these are not usually communicated well enough: “Many multiples ‘close down’ to some degree and this presents c-stores with the best opportunity ever to sell across the entire range. For the whole of December retailers need to tell shoppers ‘we are open’ and communicate this wherever possible - in leaflets, on A-boards and any other advertising.”

Retailer’s view

Conrad Davies, Spar, Pwllheli:
“We sell a lot of fresh meat. Anybody who has ordered from us goes into a book so we’ve got all their contact details. We then send those people a newsletter telling them what we are doing for Christmas, including details of the fresh turkeys, the organic meats and so on. It works well because despite having Asda on our doorstep, our meat sales continue to grow.”
Conrad also works with other local producers on special Christmas promotions for items like cakes, cheeses and coleslaw. “These are all bolted on to the Spar promotions. The booze promotions are good and we always advertise them three weeks before they are due so people can do price comparisons. We don’t sell any more by doing this, but it lets people know what we are doing.
“We also advertise hampers and try to do this as early as possible. You need to let people know what you are doing so that they can plan.”

Retailer’s view

Kevin Markham, The Trading Post, West Mersea, Essex:
“The supermarkets put their Christmas stock out at the end of August so customers can start buying things on a weekly basis. We do that, too. I know people complain that Christmas seems to be getting earlier and earlier, but you’ve got to get your stuff out on the shelves if you want to compete. We put out about half of our Christmas range in September and encourage customers to buy things like stocking fillers.”
Kevin orders his stock much earlier in the year and starts taking delivery of it in August. “We order early to take advantage of the offers, but the good thing is that it comes in when you want it.”
He says the key to knowing what to order is to look at what you had left the previous Christmas. “We look at last year and the year before for trends, but sometimes even they can be misleading. One year we hardly sold any boxed cards so we cut down and then ran out half-way through December,” he says.