When is the right time to launch Christmas Cards?

Talking to exhibitors at Autumn Fair and Top Drawer there are still plenty of retailers buying Christmas cards. For some it is last minute top-ups as they see designs that they cannot resist even though their displays are full. For others they just haven’t finished buying yet. On the High Street, Paperchase and Clinton’s already have some of their range out in-store and charities like the National Trust have been selling them all summer. I’m taking bets on when will the 1st gift catalogue will drop through the door with them in!

With so many different approaches to selling Christmas cards - I'm often asked when is the best time to launch them? Of course, the biggest influence should be what your customers want and this is exactly why the National Trust put their cards on sale from July onwards; this is when their properties are the most visited and many visitors are tourists from the UK and abroad who will not visit another property before Christmas so they would rather buy the cards they like now rather than miss out.

For greeting card retailers there is another dynamic to consider as well: the sales patterns of packs of cards versus singles, the former being used by those who have lots of cards to send the latter for those one or two special individuals. The selection of Christmas card packs is interesting; those who buy packs are looking for something that offers good value for money but appropriate design is often a consideration too.

I send over 100 cards every year and I only buy packs, I always choose a variety of design options to suit the various types of recipients for example a very traditional Christmas design for older family and friends, a box of younger designs (often funny animals) to appeal to those who have pre-teen children and then something more contemporary for closer friends of our age. Others buy value boxes because they want a lot and don’t want to spend too much on them and are happy to choose something ‘that does the job’ for everyone; by the time you have posted them it is an expensive exercise so you can certainly say it is the thought that counts!

Foreign posting dates will also have an impact on card sales with many special singles cards often being bought to send to family and friends abroad. Of course, for those on pensions or limited budgets less expensive cards may be sent too because the postage adds a significant amount to the overall cost of sending them. The last date for 2nd class post will drive another peak for card and stamp sales and for those of us who are less organised the 1st class deadline is our last chance !

One of the most recent changes can be directly attributed to the growth of Black Friday - the big discounting event that arrived from the USA about 5 years ago when significant discounts are offered on large retail items the last weekend in November. In America, it was linked to their Thanks Giving celebrations and was offered on high priced electrical items online. Here, November pay day was often the time when Christmas buying started to lift significantly - but with the addition of this big buying event - Black Friday is now used more widely and is seen on all products, online and in-store. The impact has been that this is now perceived by many to be the starting gun for Christmas shopping and this has definitely impacted on the sale of Christmas cards which now starts to build much later.

Just as this effects the build of sales, the day of the week that Christmas falls on also effects sales at the end. This year it is on a Monday so Christmas Eve may be quiet in-store with the last minute buying which will be mainly be single cards pushed forward into the middle of the week.

Looking at your sales data and how it has changed over the last few years is critical if you are to understand more about what your customers want to buy from you and when - because this should influence when you reduce the size of your everyday card range to make space for your full Christmas card offer. You are likely to sell as many birthday cards in November and December as in any other months so how and when you condense your everyday range is a critical part of your success now at this time of year. Likewise, with your occasions offer - if you do this too early you could easily compromise your sales too late and they will shop with other retailers who have a ‘better’ Christmas offer. It is worth spending some time planning this and whether you should put your range out in two stages; maintaining your everyday sales without compromising your Christmas sales could be your biggest sales gain this Christmas

And there is good news for those of you who like to buy your Christmas card ranges early - and based on the feedback I had from the article I wrote earlier this year there are a lot of you - Harrogate Home and Gift which happens in January have just announced they will have a Christmas Card Hall in 2018 which will give buyers even more of a reason to visit!

Fingers crossed for a fantastic set of Christmas sales numbers... here goes!