With Valentine’s Day on 14 Feb, shortly followed by Mother’s Day on 30 March, there are plenty of chances for small shops to win big. Convenience outlets may not necessarily be the first choice for shoppers in search of gifts, but when it comes to the distress purchase it’s certainly a case of c-stores to the rescue.

By displaying your gift offering well in advance, consumers will know exactly where to come in their hour of need. In addition to which, clever merchandising in high-traffic areas will enable you to master the art of the driving impulse purchases.

Seasonal treat

Ferrero is adding to its portfolio of treats with a seasonal gift pouch pack of Raffaello, containing 27 almond and coconut bites. The pack, which retails at £5.99, features a spring design and makes an ideal Mother’s Day gift. It is set to build on Raffaello’s 52% year-on-year growth.


“It’s an opportunity to satisfy a distress purchase and customers, especially those in a panic, appreciate it,” says Paul Wilks of Budgens Bedgrove in Buckinghamshire. “It never ceases to amaze me how things are left to the last minute and we’ll often have people rushing in for birthday or Valentine’s Day cards and gifts. We make sure we can help them with that by stocking everything they might need.”

Flowers, chocolates, alcohol and greetings cards are the key gifting items, but retailers must fine tune the details according to their individual customer base. “The profile of your target audience should be integral to your choice of stock when planning gift ranges for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day,” says Tim Ellis, business development manager at retail marketing agency Momentum In-store. “This will enable you to choose items that are at the correct price point and that have the broadest appeal.”

Know your customers

With two schools just a stone’s throw away, Barns Green Village Store in West Sussex opts for pocket-money friendly lines. “We have a supplier who provides a self-assembly stand with Valentine’s Day cards and toys,” says owner David Heritage. “The kids come in and buy them for their parents, or for another kid at school. It isn’t expensive stuff, but it makes a nice display in store.”

Elsewhere, Raj Aggarwal, Londis Queens Drive, Wigston, Leicestershire, encourages customers to trade up with premium- priced goods. “On Valentine’s Day we go big on cards and cuddly toys,” he says. “We sell the Me To You grey bears for £30 each. We don’t sell a huge amount, but even half a dozen are incremental sales.”

He also finds that customers are willing to splash out on luxury greetings cards. “At Christmas last year, we had large £20 musical cards for ‘My Wife’ and ‘Someone Special’. We sold 15 and made £10 profit on each. We’ll be getting these in again for Valentine’s Day and displaying them from the beginning of February.”

Merchandising: Go big on boxed chocolates

More than 50% of all UK adults (26 million people) purchased boxed chocolates or chocolate assortments in the past year, claims Thorntons. “More than ever, consumers view chocolates as an affordable and acceptable alternative to higher-priced gift categories,” says chief executive Jonathan Hart.

Cadbury Milk Tray is the UK’s number one everyday gifting SKU, and is benefiting from new packaging on its 600g and 800g boxes, which celebrate the brand’s heritage. White chocolate truffle and hazelnut truffle will also be joining the selection.

Cadbury Roses is also worth consideration, bearing in mind that the product is consumed by more than 3.6 million households every year. Boxes will this year include two new flavours, Coffee Escape and Signature Truffle.

And if you are looking to add something a bit different to your offering, then there’s the ‘Say it with Cadbury’ range, which features novelty-shaped packs including heart- and flower-shaped boxes. The range generated 53% incremental sales in the category, claims Mondelez International.

Ferrero Rocher is another must-stock gifting brand, with a multimillion pound marketing campaign including TV advertising running throughout spring.

Bendicks manufacturer Storck says that flagging up your boxed chocolate offering during special occasions is essential. “Retailers should use in-store displays, pos and promotions to drive additional basket spend,” says sales director Andy Mutton.

Minesh Patel of Quick Stop Express in Croydon, South London, agrees that cards are not an area people want to scrimp on. “It’s not about just stocking the cheapest cards people want something that is good quality, such as handcrafted cards,” he says. Minesh has a prominent seasonal greetings card stand displayed in the centre of the store, which is immediately visible upon entering, in order to trigger impulse purchases.

Meanwhile, when it comes to Mother’s Day, flowers are a big winner for Raj. “We always stock flowers at about £5 a bunch, but we’ll get premium ones in priced between £15 and £25 for Mother’s Day. We get them in on the Friday so that they’re fresh for the weekend. We go to the market and buy pre-made bouquets. A £25 bouquet costs us no more than £15. We try to buy for half the price of what we sell, where possible. We’ll also sell £1 pots of pansies for the kids to buy their mums with their pocket money. And we’ll have baskets of flowers outside, which ensures that people can see we sell flowers.”

Sales Assistant of the Year 2013 Sheena Whitehouse has also seen the opportunity to upgrade her store’s flower offering for seasonal events. Springisland Supermarket in Coalisland, Northern Ireland, sells flowers throughout the year, but pulls out all the stops for key gifting occasions. “Our year-round flower display is by the checkouts, but for special gifting occasions we’ll have them by the store entrance,” she explains. “Normally, our flower prices range between £3 and £8, but for special occasions we’ll get in £15 bunches.”

Boxed chocolates are another area where retailers can experiment with pricing tiers. “Milk Tray boxed chocolates are our best-seller at £7 for a large box and £4.99 for a small one,” says Sheena. “Lindor also sells well. We currently sell the smaller £2.99 boxes, but we’re looking into getting the larger boxes for special occasions.”

Staff at Sunder Sandher’s Londis store in Headington, Oxfordshire, like to get creative for special events, merchandising bottles of wine alongside Thorntons Premium Collection boxed chocolates and flagging them up with seasonal pos. “Putting the items together definitely helped to boost sales,” Sunder says.

Put it all together

Merchandising gift items together means that you can promote your whole range in one area, instead of having different types of gifts dotted around the store where they cannot be found as easily, says Ellis at In-Store Momentum. He adds: “Cross-merchandising could help to secure sales within other categories, too. For example, merchandising gift wrap near the boxed chocolates as it prompts shoppers to purchase additional complementary products.

Springisland Supermarket has undoubtedly benefited from displaying items together. “We have a seasonal area at the front of the store where we display gifting items for special occasions,” says Sheena. “People tend to buy three items for one occasion - usually chocolates, a card and flowers - so you’re looking at about £15 spend plus.”

Paul increases his sales by creating in-store theatre with seasonal displays. “At least a week in advance of the event we create a dedicated display for Valentine’s and Mother’s Day, with cards, boxed chocolates, mugs and flowers. We position this display at the front of the store, which not only encourages impulse purchases but reminds people about the event.”

Sales advice: Winning ways with spirits and wines

According to First Drinks research, 19% of spirits purchased in the convenience channel are designed to be gifts, with malt whisky, blended whisky and vodka the top three gifting categories.

To help retailers capitalise on this demand, First Drinks has launched a range of Glenfiddich gift tins for the gifting market: Glenfiddich 12 Year Old (rrp £34.59) Glenfiddich 15 Year Old (rrp £38.59) and Glenfiddich Rich Oak (rrp £36.59).

It’s not just spirits that provide a gifting opportunity, either. With the most romantic day of the year soon to be upon us, sparkling wine may be an option for customers watching their bank balance but still wanting to give a gift with fizz for Valentine’s Day.

Freixenet managing director Damian Clarke says the sub-category has remained strong. “Alcohol sales remain stable as shoppers seek to celebrate all year round. Sparkling wine is the only BWS sub-sector to be showing growth at a total trade level in the past 12 months, with 7% growth in value in the past year.”

He adds: “Items such as sparkling wine will be high on shoppers’ lists, so ensuring there is sufficient space dedicated to well-known brands for gifting will be key to delivering sales.”

He advises retailers to consider cross-merchandising alcohol, especially sparkling wine, alongside other items such as gift bags, prompting shoppers to make impulse purchases.

Global Brands marketing manager Simon Green suggests retailers create their own gifting offering that allows flexibility. “C-store retailers can create in-store theatre in a number of ways to encourage gifting purchases,” he says. “This can range from displaying bespoke pos, communicating key items and promotions, to encouraging impulse purchases through branding aisles.

“Another great idea is the ‘build your own’ gift bags, where consumers can chose from a range of items to create a bespoke gift for a set price.”

He notes that alcohol gift packs are a welcome option for people in need of inspiration. “We stock a lot of Diageo spirits, which make good gifts. Alcohol gift packs with just a bottle in a box work well.”

Sheena’s team also go out of their way to make present buying easy. She notes that dedicated displays are greatly appreciated by male customers who can find it awkward to be seen buying feminine gifts. “Men don’t like to be seen lingering around the gifting area - they just like to pick something and go.”

She has also found that making up gift sets can be effective. “For Father’s Day, we made up Gillette gift packs with razors and shaving cream, ranging between £8.99 and £11.99,” she explains.

Something different

As well as tried-and-tested gifts, Sheena claims that it’s important to look for items that will provide a unique selling point. “We try different stuff all the time. For Mother’s Day last year we sold ‘Mum’ coasters and mugs to go with them, which were really popular.”

Jo Buist of Chilbolton Village Stores in Hampshire also does her best to make her gift offering stand out from the crowd. “Gifting is a big source of revenue for us and something we can do a bit differently to other stores, so we always make sure to have some unique products,” she says. “As well as the usual confectionery and alcohol, we also stock items such as aromatic candles made by small suppliers and which are a bit different.”

Scotmid Bieldside manager Aaron Cullen makes sure that his Aberdeen store has more unusual gifts, too. “We want to be able to offer something a little different for customers, rather than people picking up the same old stuff that looks like a last-minute purchase. We have an extensive range of greeting cards and a selection of fresh flowers, but we also have a display of alcohol products that make perfect gifts. We have some 12-year-old Japanese whisky that you won’t find in many other shops that has an rrp of £46. It makes a great talking point for people and it’s a fantastic price point for us.”

Local products make for great gifts, too, he adds. “Your regular customers will appreciate you stocking the products made nearby, and tourists will want to bring them home as gifts.”

By stocking a strong selection of gifting products and by making room for one or two more unusual lines, you can guarantee you’ll stand out from the crowd. So start planning now to ensure you have gifting all wrapped up in time for spring.