When do retailers want to buy their Christmas Cards?

Flicking through the latest copy of Greetings Today, you will have noticed an advert for 2017 Christmas cards. You may have been tempted to think it was a typo - but in fact it wasn’t. Some publishers have their 2017 ranges ready to sell in now. But do retailers really want to be thinking about next year’s range when they still have this year’s peak sales still to come? Well the honest answer is that they must, or publishers wouldn’t do it. So what is it that dictates when a retailer wants to select their range of Christmas cards?

In simple terms, it is often dictated by the size and complexity of the business and whether they are buying a lot of products for Christmas on long lead times. For most retailers, Christmas is the most important trading time of year so it is too risky to leave things to chance. They want their ranges to be planned so that the finished effect is a holistic look where the displays are filled with specifically selected products (the alternative being a random and piecemeal offer where they are unsure if the space will be full or empty).

For larger retailers this means agreeing sales budgets for the period and then planning department space to support those sales. They may have a strong own brand offer which they will want to co-ordinate in terms of colour palette, type face, and imagery. With the graphics and POS instore, this takes a long time to effect so it is likely that they will start work in the summer of the year before, i.e. June 2016 for Christmas 2017. Once the own brand ranges have been developed the buyers know what gaps they need to fill in terms of designs, captions, price points etc and how much budget they have left to spend so they are able to select publishers' ranges if they are available to view.

Lindsey Adam of retailer Bonkers, who has 2 very successful shops in Scotland, likes to plan ahead too, she says "we start looking for our Christmas cards in January, the earlier the better because really it is good to get it done and out of the way and also the look of what sold well, or not, is fresh in our minds. We know in January how many we need to buy so it is just a question of seeing what is available. Unfortunately a lot of card publishers don’t show their Christmas ranges until later in the year and once we have spent our budget we sometimes have to say no to some Christmas card ranges that we would have ordered if we had seen them earlier in the year... we often need to persuade smaller and local publishers to show us their Christmas designs before summer."

When I was the buyer at the National Trust we started work on the Christmas ranges in August of the previous year. This was partly driven by the fact we were developing an own brand range and also by the fact that our Christmas cards went out on sale in late June, as all our summer visitors arrived. Many wanted to buy their cards then as they wouldn’t be visiting an NT property nearer to Christmas.

For smaller retailers the issues are much more practical. Cash flow is critical and stock residues will dictate the space and budget available for new Christmas cards, though some of that cash will have to be spent on the later spring events like Easter, Weddings and Father’s Day before Christmas can be committed to.

In some cases it will be the publishers driving the timetable - particularly if they are sourcing their cards from the Far East as is often the case with boxed cards and any cards with a lot of hand finishing. Far East products always require a longer lead-time and many publishers will only print what has been ordered so there is very little fat for those selecting later.

When talking to new publishers one of the things they find most difficult is knowing how far to design ahead for any season. The reality is as with all things in retail - it is all about understanding your market and appreciating the timescales your target retailers are working to.

If you want the chance to supply some of the larger retailers, you need to be ready early so you need product designed and ready to exhibit at Spring Fair in February. If not then the latest should be PG Live in June though you will be too late for some. You don’t need finished stock for then, but samples are essential.

If your target retailers are the independents then you need to be ready to show your designs at PG Live or at the latest, Harrogate in July. Having said that I know there are some very established publishers who like to keep their retailers hungry and don’t have any designs ready until August/September - which I would suggest is risky as it relies on the retailer keeping some money free to spend with them; one day they may spend it with someone else!