Gift market trends impacting independent retailers now and in 2019

As we come to the end of 2018 there are a number of design, economic and social trends that we need to consider if we are to have effective business plans that will enable us to grow our businesses. So let’s look at:

  • What market trends have we seen in 2018?

  • How social, economic and design trends are influencing what your consumers are buying

  • How you can use this information to help you plan for 2019 

When we think about trends we often only think about design trends but is often the social and economic trends that have an even bigger influence in terms on how much have to spend and what we are looking to buy, this is what I would like to highlight today.

So first of all some context about the economy…


For most of us the referendum vote will be the biggest single thing to impact our personal and business lives in the coming years and while it may appear daunting it is important to remember that many businesses that traded through the last recession did not do it by slashing costs and battening down the hatches but invested and innovated their way out of it - and I believe a creative approach will be needed this time too.

All the negative talk and scare mongering is creating uncertainty for consumers, businesses, our government and the EU itself as no one knows what will happen. So we have to plan but also remain flexible. Essentially we have to treat this as another business challenge (its name just happens to be Brexit) - and as such it will present new opportunities and some problems too. The key to success will be to take advantage of the opportunities and minimise the risks just as we have before.

One of the biggest impacts has been the drop in value of sterling against the dollar and the euro so we are able to buy less for our pounds which is bad news for anyone buying imported products or components. We started to see some price increases in 2017 and in 2018 but I believe we will see more in 2019.

The upside is that if a significant percentage of your business is export then this change in exchange rates makes your products more attractive to foreign buyers. And if you don’t export currently, perhaps now is the time to consider if it could help your business. 

Of course the improved dollar/euro exchange rate has encouraged significantly more tourists to the UK and this is benefiting many areas of the country. In 2018, this was boosted by all things Royal with a new baby and a Royal Wedding. And now there will be a new Royal baby in 2019 too.

For British manufacturers and retailers, the increase in focus on Buy British and Buy Local products presents an additional sales opportunity with foreign visitors and patriotic Brits. 

This is one of those great opportunities and as retailers we should all be thinking about how we can maximise this.

But the downside to this upside? The last few years have seen significant increases in retailers uncontrollable operating costs with increases in the National Minimum Wage, pensions legislation applying to even the smallest businesses, increases in rents and significant increases in businesses rates in many areas, and apprenticeship levy for larger businesses too.

The success of our economy is very dependent on consumer spending which is in itself not a very healthy position for a country but for us as individuals in retail it is critical. There have been worries over the rate of consumer spending decreasing further as we become more unsettled about the changes we are seeing and retail prices increasing in some areas are increasing faster than our incomes - which is exacerbating the impact of this trend.

Often it is that spending in total is not decreasing; high street spending may be decreasing but it is still increasing on line, even if the rate of growth is decreasing, so the total is still increasing. 

We often blame the weather for retail sales but this year it was completely justified, why would you go shopping unless you had to? The record temperatures were keeping us away from high streets in favour of shady parks and rivers but it did mean that online sales were very strong, Food and alcohol sales remained robust as people continued to enjoy the World Cup and then enjoyed losts of bbq’s in the summer sunshine.

The figures from BRC show that sales of non-food products struggled - three months into an extended period of summer weather, demand for many seasonal purchases had slowed while the heat kept shoppers away from days spent browsing new ranges. For many in the industry, Autumn could not have come sooner.

 July’s performance reinforces the fact that it will take more than events-based retail and sunshine to improve the health of the high-street. Retailers must improve efficiency, in many cases reinvent themselves and adapt to the changing retail environment, including the interest rate rise.

 The general sense of unease around Brexit and what will happen next is also making consumers and businesses cautious about what they are spending. When I spoke at the Autumn Fair last year I said we must all keep spending both personally and in our businesses and this is still the case. Our purchases will definitely be more considered but if we all stop buying things it will lead to even bigger problems in our economy in the next few years.

If you are lucky enough to have money to invest in your business now is a good time to negotiate deals on larger ticket items be they property or goods as sellers and landlords are keen to do business. This is also good for the economy which needs businesses and consumers to spend so we are supporting one another. 


Periods of uncertainty in the past have shown that we tend to make more regular contact with family and friends and spend time together rather than buying things. We also spend more time celebrating occasions, particularly those linked to children as we want to protect them from any concerns we have about money. If your business is linked to occasions or children this could be good news.

People will often chose to spend time together doing things that don’t cost money or little money and if they buy products they will be items that enhance whatever it is they are doing together. A good example of this is games and jigsaws which are seeing a significant increase in sales and many new products are being launched to appeal to new emerging markets and consumers who would not have bought these currently.

As life becomes more pressured and awareness of mental health issues and personal well being increase, products are being launched on to the market all the time to support changes in lifestyle. In my product area of stationery this is apparent through the various books and journals available helping purchasers to plan and help their work life balance. 

Earlier this year Blue Planet 2 featured several pieces showing the impact of rubbish on the world’s oceans and the clip showing a delicate seahorse holding a cotton bud in its tail triggered a massive response in all sectors around unnecessary waste and the materials being used.  All of a sudden the talk is focussed on Waste and how to minimise it so as to limit our impact on the environment in disposing of it as well as not using resources unnecessarily in the first place. Not only that but the focus on recycling, using recycled and biodegradeable materials has also increased. 

There is a further impact and that has been to reduce the use of single use plastics for things like water bottles, coffee cups, drinking straws and so on particularly where they are items that cannot be recycled because of the materials that are combined within them. Great news if you can sell insulated bottles, cups and so on and it is encouraging the use of new materials too with better environmental credentials like bamboo for coffee cups.

And of course excess packaging is another favourite which works for manufacturers too because that potentially helps them reduce their costs and transport costs too. Cards are a good example of this where some publishers are offering naked cards ie unbagged - something that was quite normal in the 60’s and 70’s for a lower price.

Regardless the fact that we all feel we have less money means that often we will only buy  more functional products as gifts, and something that is useful and can be funny too is a great idea! My goodness it is important to laugh and enjoy ourselves but whatever we buy we don’t want it to be tat.

Humour remains very important too,  we all like something to laugh at and you can see that a lot of product carries humourous lines on it at the moment. Your job is to sell humour that your customers will want to buy. When I was the card buyer at the NT the shop would often be quite quiet except for a group who had found the card stand and were sharing some jokes on the cards – you cannot overstate the positive impact that this can have on sales: spoilt for choice they often bought all 5 cards in a range not just 1, because they knew they would appeal to their friends!! 

If something is going to be functional and useful it needs to be relevant to the recipient; what they do and the way they live. It might be unusual to look at or have additional features - all of which adds to the feeling that it is a thoughtful gift.

Personalisation is a good example of this in that you have gone to the effort of getting something done, changed or added especially for the recipient it shows thought and planning and makes the recipient feel very special. Personalistaion  lends itself to selling online so that the product can be held at a single location, personalised and then shipped to the recipient. 

I mentioned earlier that there is an increased focus on spending time together and selling experiences links in to this as well as picking up on the personal relevance of a gift to the recipient and so on. 

Donations being made to charities when products are bought is also increasing targeting those who have more feeling they want to support others either involved in the production of the product or through direct support links. This has happened in the Christmas card industry for years but there are all sorts of links being established be it Toms shoes, food, water, and education.

In honesty, we will have to work hard to grow our businesses, working with renewed vigour and focus ensuring we are taking away any of the barriers that might stop our customers spending money.


Many of the trends described above are influencing the colour palette and materials we are seeing on and used in products.

The trend around the environment and waste means the colours we’re seeing are browns, greens, greys and blues in material finishes, not glosses or metallic. But this is not about being  basic, rough and ready - it is actually emphasising a smart approach to making really good quality, good looking products but with a more ‘natural’ pedigree.

The mystical and magical will continue to be important and this will influence the colours being used and the finishes include foils and glitters with lilacs, purples, silvers. Unicorns have been part of this for a while and mermaids have have too. This is likely to continue going into 2019.

Mindfulness, calm, and work/life balance have seen the rise of soft colours as we lose ourselves in a sea of simple pinks, blushes, and blues.

In terms of image sourcing, licensing is still very dominant as it lessens the risk for the manufacturer where the brand values of the license align with brand values of the ranges being produced. The hope is that the retailers and ultimately the consumers will buy into the look when applied to the various products. It is critical that the design look is suitable for the product format/price point and therefore the target customer.



As retailers and suppliers to the retail market, our job is to continue to give your customers a reason to keep spending money by offering a great selection of products that are well priced against the competition. Make sure everyone feels welcome when they contact your business be that coming in to your shop, phoning or visiting you online. You need to know that they can find what they are looking for easily and everything about visiting your store or website is simple, straight forward and welcoming,

 As one of JLP’s bosses said recently:

Remember to keep calm, hold your nerve and obsess about your customers!! 

This sounds like a good place to start as we head into 2019…