It may only be October, but any retailer who truly wants to make the most of the festive season should already be honing in on potential Christmas shoppers, with eye-catching displays and jaw-dropping promotions.
Sandeep Bains at Simply Fresh in Faversham, Kent, certainly has his eye on the ball this year. “Last year we were a bit late with getting Christmas stock in, whereas this year we’re getting it out earlier and doing more prominent displays,” he says. “People were telling me in early October that they’d already started their Christmas shopping and were stocking up.”
Not wanting to miss a trick, Sandeep has been quick to act. “Kinnerton advent calendars with Peppa Pig and Spiderman characters have been out since the end of September and we have had big festive packs of McVitie’s stacked up. It’s about showing people you sell festive stock early on.”
The Christmas season is getting earlier and earlier each year, observes Elizabeth Shaw product manager Hayley Coggins. “It is important for retailers to make sure consumers know that their favourite products are available for when they are ready to make that purchase. As well as the firm favourites it is a great time for retailers to display special Christmas limited-editions and encourage special purchases.”
Dan Cocks has already got his festive sales off to a good start at Premier Whitstone Stores in Holsworthy, Devon. “At the start of October, we’re just coming into that ‘buy early for Christmas’ mentality. It’s surprising how people like to stagger their Christmas buying and manage their spending.”
He has witnessed first-hand the selling power of limited-edition Christmas items. “We have Christmas Chocolate Orange in original and honeycomb crunch variants at £1 and I can’t buy enough of them. People buy them for Christmas, but they’ll eat them beforehand and then they’ll be back for more.”
Dan has put a lot of thought into his biscuit and confectionery displays this year to ensure that festive promotions are unmissable. “We’ll put some effort into big, bold impactful displays. The visual impact of a big stack really works. It makes managing stock easier, too. This year we’ve given promotions more space - a four- or five-metre run right by the door. I’m a big believer in less is more - for example, I’ll have a whole bay dedicated to chocolate orange, rather than running five or six different deals.”
He has a nifty tactic for avoiding leftover seasonal stock, too. “We actually have very few seasonal-specific products. Only half a dozen of our current products are seasonal. We buy heavy early on and then just top up as required later in the season.”
Dan’s alcohol promotions are another big winner in the run-up to the festive party season. “The 15-packs of lagers and ciders, such as our Fosters, Carlsberg and Strongbow for £10, go really well. We’re picking up more of the off-licence sales these days. Tesco has a two for £20 deal, so ours is better from a customer perspective because you only have to buy one pack to get the same value.”
Larger sharing packs of festive treats also perform well at Whitstone Village Stores. “Big tins of biscuits and sweets, including McVitie’s Family Circle, Jacobs Christmas Crackers, Swizzels tins and big tubs of Haribo, go very well. I’ll be buying in heavily on them. It’s hard to compete with the mults on Quality Street and Roses, whereas slightly different offerings give us a point of difference.”
Dan isn’t the only one to have witnessed strong McVitie’s sales. Everyday assortment McVitie’s Family Circle experienced its best ever Christmas for sales in 2014, according to United Biscuits. The firm’s Victoria tin is also a big festive seller and UB is adding to its portfolio this year with a 100g impulse variant, as well as a 385g Victoria Sapphire tin, with a mirror-effect finish (rrp £6.50).
Stuart Cordner, owner of Spar Comber Road, Dundonald, Co Antrim, has also seen success with tins of sweets and biscuits. “Our Christmas stock arrived at the end of September. Prices for our tins of sweets match the supermarkets; we have a 750g tin of Quality Street and 729g of Heroes and Roses all for a fiver each.
“We also have McVitie’s Victoria biscuit cartons at £4.50 for 650g and Fox’s Fabulously at £4 for 600g to pricematch the multiples. I have 3ft-high stacks of them along with strong deals-orientated POS material.”
And if the prices alone weren’t enough to convince customers that they are getting a good offer, the store is also running a discount promotion whereby a customer receives £3 off their next £20 shop when they spend more than £20 in-store. “The idea is that we’re encouraging customers to buy ambient goods and they are stocking up. People will buy six or seven tins in one shop,” says Stuart.
And as Christmas Day draws closer, Stuart plans to up the ante by offering raffle prizes to customers if they spend a certain amount in-store. “We ran a raffle last year whereby if a customer spends more than £20 they are entered into a draw to win a 32in TV or runners-up prizes of £50-worth of vouchers to spend in store.”
Stuart presented the prizes to winning customers dressed as Father Christmas. “Last year I dressed up as Santa for about a week - customers had a good laugh and it made me more approachable,” he grins.
He ensures that word of his strong deals gets around by using social media. “When we build our off-shelf displays in the run up to Christmas, we post photos of them on Facebook. Our store’s page has more than 1,200 likes.”
In addition to the big brands and promotions pulling in festive sales, many retailers find their own niche areas in which to flourish. Eurospar Cullybackey manager Laura McLean claims that her store’s fresh cream products are in high demand at Christmas time. “For Christmas Eve, we might have orders for 300 fresh cream products, such as pavlovas and cheese cakes, so the girls work through the night to have them ready on time,” she says.
Stuart and his team have also come up with some unusual offerings. “We challenge ourselves to think up unique ideas,” he says. “We are near Ulster Hospital so we’re big on gifting. We make up hampers wrapped in cellophane and ribbons and display them at the front of the store from the beginning of December.”
An entry-level hamper starts at £7 and might be a gift that a child could buy their parents, containing products such as tea and sweets, and a more premium hamper can cost up to £20 and is larger and contains more indulgent lines. “We sold between 50 and 100 last Christmas,” says Stuart. “Hampers need to be well planned; we decide what will go into them in October. The most efficient way to pack them is to set up a small production line.”
Gary Bilbrough, who manages Nisa Local Toddington in Bedfordshire, has also happened upon a less obvious money-spinner. “Last year we displayed Christmas wreaths in a coal bunker outside the front of the shop,” he says. “They were £8 each with a 30% mark-up, and we sold 30.”
Meanwhile, Christmas stationery has been a big hit at Eldred Drive Stores (Premier) in Orpington, Kent. “We bought a metal stand for the front of the store with decorations, wrapping paper and themed paper goods,” says Anita Nye, Convenience Store’s Sales Assistant of the Year 2014.
“It’s all about the impact it has on people - it’s the first thing they see when they walk in. We have a lot of elderly people who can’t get to the high street so they can come here and pick up a box of cards for £1.”
Anita also came up with an idea to attract children and their families to the store. “Last year I had a Letters to Santa post box. I replied to every letter we received - even the ones I couldn’t read!” she says. “Apparently, one little girl gave out such a loud scream of delight when she saw it that her dad thought there was something wrong! Another customer bought me a box of chocolates because she said I’d made her daughter’s year!”
In addition to her Santa post box, Anita raises money for charity at Christmas. “We made up a Christmas hamper and I ordered a giant gummy bear on Amazon to raffle off. We make at least £500 for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.”
Mumtaz Ahmed, who runs Best-one Kennington, near Oxford, with wife Sultana, helps to raise funds for a local charity by selling Christmas raffle tickets. “In the run-up to Christmas we sell raffle tickets to raise money for the Kennington Cancer Fund, which uses the money for hospital equipment. The hospital provides the hamper and I’ll put wine and a box of chocolates forward as second and third prizes to encourage people to enter. We usually raise more than £100. We provide prizes for other local charity raffles in the village, too.”
Meanwhile, Laura and her team have made it their mission for the past two years to raise enough money for a village Christmas tree. In the first year, staff donned Christmas jumpers and collection buckets and some team members took part in a sponsored run from Belfast to Dublin using a treadmill set up in the store. This year they are planning a car wash fundraiser dressed in onesies.
Once the tree arrives in the village, the store throws a party to celebrate. “On the night that the lights go on, we provide food and the local primary and high schools come and sing Christmas carols dressed in Christmas jumpers,” says Laura. “Hundreds of people come and all the kids get a selection box from Santa. Now that we have it every year the locals want it bigger and better. It’s hard work, but worth it.”
What’s more, Laura claims that the team’s dedication to the local community results in stronger sales. “We always trade well at Christmas. After the event there’s a real buzz about the place and our sales are up nearly 20% in December. Customers want to support us because they see what we do and the hard work we put in.”
Dan puts on a celebration for locals in Holsworthy, too. “Most years we have A Taste of Christmas where we invite local suppliers to show their wares as part of a big event. It goes beyond nibbles; it’s more of a buffet affair where all the community gets together for carol singing, and we’ll give out our Christmas order forms while they’re there so people know they can order their fresh veg, turkey and cream from us.”
While the event itself enables locals to get together and enjoy festive food, it results in some tasty sales, too. “We get fairly healthy orders, usually about £3,000-worth,” says Dan. “Once a single customer spent £800 with us!”
Sandeep has also witnessed good results from organising tastings in-store. “We work with local ale suppliers and run tastings in the run-up to Christmas. Last year’s went well and we sold 10 cases.”
Crisp manufacturer Tyrrells believes that sampling is a great way to gain incremental sales. “Sampling tables for wine tasting combined with nibbles sampling can be an effective method to inspire shoppers into impulse purchasing at a time when shopping missions are very focused,” says marketing manager Ruth Irving.
The company is also hoping to encourage consumers to trade up this Christmas with seasonal limited-edition Merry Crisp-mas Crisps, made from specially selected red and white potatoes. Packs are priced at £2.99 for a 125g sharing bag.
Chocolatier Elizabeth Shaw points out that tasting sessions are a great way to introduce customers to new lines. “Stocking festive-themed products, along with sampling them, will encourage purchase,” states product manager Hayley Coggins. “This is especially the case when it comes to new products. Consumers need to know what they’re buying is a quality product and the only way they’ll know is by trying it. This can also encourage repeat purchase or multi-buy purchase; if a consumer likes it enough for themselves they won’t have a problem giving it as a gift.”
Christmas Day dilemma
But while nearly everyone is in agreement that sampling sessions are a winner, one area where the jury is still out is whether or not to open on Christmas Day.
Mumtaz stays open until 3pm on Christmas Day. “People tend to forget things - mostly it’s a bottle of wine or a card. It might be soft drinks for the table, or tin foil for the turkey,” he says. “But it can also be more day-to-day items that get overlooked, such as they’ve run out of washing products or pet food or bread. The only annoying thing is that no one brings cash - they’re all paying by card.”
Sandeep opts for half-day opening. “We open 10 till 2, or 9 till 1 on Christmas Day and we’ll do a day-and-a-half’s trade in that time. It’s completely distress purchases - parsnips always sell out as there is always someone who has not prepared them right, or forgotten to buy them! At least 50% of sales will be alcohol as people will have run out before the day itself. And people will buy 60s and 100s of cigarettes as we’re the only place open.”
Christmas Day shoppers can be big spenders, he claims. “Four or five people spend easily above £100 on a couple of bottles of brandy, 60 cigarettes and a top-up shop. The average spend on Christmas Day is £15, compared with our average of £6.50.”
But while the increased sales may be attractive, not every- one is in favour of opening on Christmas Day. “After discussions with customers, I sensed that opening on Christmas Day was a sensitive issue,” says Stuart. “There are quite a few churches in the local area and many people felt that it was a holy day and a day of rest so why not have a break and give the staff a break too, so we don’t open on Christmas Day.”
Dan has also opted to stay shut on Christmas Day. “We are closed, although I have to come to the store on Christmas Day to check it’s okay and no freezers have broken down, so people know if they’re absolutely desperate we’ll help out,” says Dan.
“We’ve been messaged before on Facebook on Christmas Day because someone needed to come in for electricity and we’ve let people come in for a few bits in the past. You can’t take these people’s money all year round and then not help out with the cranberry sauce or the gravy when they need it.”
Being prepared for impulse purchases has certainly paid off for Dan. “Last year was a good Christmas. Our order book was slightly smaller, but we did well with impulse,” he says. “People feel that they can rely on us and know that we manage our stocks well.”
By being ready for those key distress purchases at the end of the season, shouting about Christmas deals at the beginning, and creating that Christmas spirit throughout, you’ll be sure to make it a merry one for all.
Additional services to make shoppers’ lives easier
Over Christmas people are busier than ever, so it is crucial for retailers to offer convenient services that make life easier for their customers once the festive panic sets in.
“Click & Collect is increasingly becoming a hugely popular delivery option for consumers who want the convenience of being able to pick up their shopping at a time and place that suits them,” says CollectPlus marketing director Catherine Woolfe.
“The CollectPlus Click & Collect service helps to reduce Christmas stress, as customers can order gifts online from retailers such as John Lewis, ASOS or The White Company and pick them up at any of the 5,800 local convenience stores in the network. Having gifts sent to a CollectPlus store instead of home can also serve as a useful way to avoid recipients from finding their presents before the big day.”
The firm’s research has shown that stores earned an additional £3,095 by offering CollectPlus services in 2014, both from commission and in additional sales from customers popping in to pick up or return parcels.
Offering additional services also brings in new business for convenience stores - two-thirds (67%) of CollectPlus customers dropping off or collecting a parcel are visiting that particular store for the first time, claims the company. In addition, it states that nearly half (43%) of all CollectPlus customers buy other products in their local store when dropping off or collecting parcels.
If you’re looking for a quirky stocking filler to brighten up your shelves and get shoppers stocking up, then Sweetdreams may have just the product.
The Choc Nibbles manufacturer has teamed up with Hancocks Cash & Carry to launch Reindeer Droppings.
Available in boxes of 12, the 175g gift packs retail at £1, creating a margin of 27% for retailers.
The novelty chocolates make up part of Hancocks’ Kingsway Let it Snow range, which comprises 28 products designed especially for Christmas.
Festive flavour in popcorn
Gingerbread is one of the flavours of the season and has now found its way into popcorn.
Butterkist has unwrapped limited-edition Gingerbread- flavour popcorn (rrp £1.49). The 150g packs are expected to appeal to shoppers looking to experience something new within the popcorn market, as well as those who are seeking out novelty winter treats.
Senior brand manager Anjna Mistry said: “Our limited edition offers a fantastic opportunity for retailers to drive sales as we head into a time of year when consumers are looking to spend a little bit more on snacking.”
Varta adds to lights line-up
Varta has extended its range of compact lights and added new lightweight headlights, ideal as winter evenings draw in. The range comprises: a pocket-sized key chain light (rrp £4.99); rechargeable car light (rrp £11.99); and two multi-LED lights (rrp from £5.99).
Ginsters’ festive menu will be available from 28 October. Ginsters Festive Bar, Festive Pasty and Festive Turkey, Pork Stuffing & Cranberry Slice form the savouries line-up, while sandwiches include the Festive Edition Christmas Cracker sandwich and Cranberry, Wensleydale and Bacon sandwich. The firm will be making a donation to the Royal Voluntary Service from sales.
CBL Drinks get in the mix
CBL Drinks has introduced a 500ml bottle format of its 1870s range of mixers in time for Christmas. The range includes soda water, tonic water, ginger beer and lime & soda.
Burtons unveils new Cadbury biscuits line-up
Building on last year’s success, the Cadbury Christmas biscuits portfolio will feature new Cadbury Delights (rrp £1.79), Cadbury Milk Fingers Twin pack (rrp £3.78) and a Cadbury Dairy Milk Cracker carton (rrp £5).
Power up your sales with strong merchandising
It’s any parent’s worst nightmare to forget the batteries on Christmas morning, so convenience stores should stock up for those last-minute purchases, advises Varta. It claims that a selection of the five most popular battery sizes - AA, AAA, C, D and 9V - will satisfy about 80% of shopper requirements without taking up too much space.
Varta claims that two-thirds of all consumer battery purchases are impulse driven, with shoppers being drawn in by promotional displays or strategic placements next to related products - for example, placing a clip-strip next to Christmas decorations that require batteries.
“Consumers are more likely to buy batteries if they can physically pick a pack up from a fixture, rather than asking for it at till point,” notes sales director Anthony Sewart. “Front-of-store display units at impulse locations, such as the till points, are very effective. Here, shoppers can physically pick up a pack of batteries and are therefore more likely to purchase.”
Panasonic Energy agrees that now is a key time to stock up on batteries. “Thanks to Christmas toy and gadget sales, the batteries market continues to be dominated by sales in the festive period, often peaking on Christmas Eve,” claims sales manager for UK and Ireland Tim Clark.
Panasonic has recently introduced new improved performance across its alkaline batteries, along with new packaging. “Consumers do not always understand brands’ power claims and so communicating the longevity of battery life is generally what increases the trust in the brand,” says Clark.
New packaging across the range communicates Panasonic’s increased performance, together with clearer messaging of the batteries’ USPs (long-lasting, no leakage and long shelf-life) and size.