The mood was downright merry throughout the selling season at The Paper + Craft Pantry in Austin. Photo courtesy of The Paper + Craft Pantry.

Gift Shop Plus Summer 2024
Finishing Strong: 15 tips for holiday sales By Sarah Schwartz

The winter holiday 2023 numbers are in, and the news is actually pretty good.

Photo courtesy of The Paper + Craft Pantry.
The Paper + Craft Pantry’s Pei Sim curated ready-to-go options for her website’s annual holiday gift guide — and grouped categories into well-stocked yet orderly displays in her brick-and-mortar location. Photo courtesy of The Paper + Craft Pantry.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that holiday spending was not only consistent with the average annual holiday increase of 3.6% from 2010 to 2019, it slightly increased. Core retail sales grew 3.8% over 2022, reaching a record $964.4 billion. That figure easily tops the previous record of $929.5 billion spent during the 2022 holiday season.

“Consumer spending was remarkably resilient throughout 2023 and finished the year with a solid pace for the holiday season,” explained Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist of NRF. “Although inflation has been the biggest concern for households, the price of goods eased notably and was helped by a healthy labor market, underscoring a successful holiday season for retailers.”

NRF reported that online and other non-store sales were up 8.2% — a slight decrease from reporting last year. However, regardless of where a purchase occurs — on screen or in real life — healthy fourth quarter sales are essential to any retailer’s survival. So I queried several across the country to find out what succeeded in 2023 — and to get a peek at this year’s holiday plans.

Photo courtesy of The Paper + Craft Pantry.
Photo courtesy of The Paper + Craft Pantry.

1. Stick With (Previous) Successes. For the Los Angeles-based Urbanic, in many ways, it was business as usual, described founder and owner Audrey Woollen. “Holiday 2023 played out exactly according to plan for the most part. We kept the fourth quarter interactive — full of events, giveaways, intentional marketing and sparkle! We continued with what we learned had worked from 2022. We had local florists bring in wreaths to sell, we continued with our festive pet pics and our typed-out letters to Santa for the kiddos, and kept our giftwrap service going strong!”

2. An Early Start. Ann Cantrell, owner, Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store, Brooklyn, New York, had her best holiday ever in 2023! “In 17 holidays I always say each year is different, but one thing that worked for us was putting out holiday ornaments early. Brooklyn peeps do not like to see actual holiday product too early, but our ornaments are always funny and engaging, and people are excited to see them. We put them out on Sept. 25, and the rest of holiday at the beginning of November. We will do that again. In fact, I went to a few shops in the Northeast this February. They had ornaments out and I bought one, (so) I am now thinking we need a few available the whole year through.”

Photo courtesy of The Paper + Craft Pantry.
The Paper + Craft Pantry’s Pei Sim curated ready-to-go options for her website’s annual holiday gift guide — and grouped categories into well-stocked yet orderly displays in her brick-and-mortar location. Photo courtesy of The Paper + Craft Pantry.

3. Value at Any Price. For Pei Sim, owner and founder, The Paper + Craft Pantry, Austin, holiday 2023 was slower compared to the previous few years. “We noticed not necessarily less foot traffic or interest, but in general it seemed like everyone was spending a little less. Having lots of options and a variety in pricing for different products was helpful to fit everyone’s budget. We will continue to be intentional and mindful of stocking our shop with really unique and quality goods so we can continue to be the go-to spot in town for gifts!”

4. For Ladies Only. Kandice Matsler, creative-in- charge at Barque Gifts, Lubbock, Texas, enjoyed record- high sales and steady traffic throughout the 2023 season. “For the first time we held a ‘Jingle Ladies Shopping Night’ that was really fun for our customers (and us). We served festive cocktails and charcuterie cups for guests to enjoy while shopping. We also gave exclusive discounts during the event and a swag bag for attending. Spots sold out so quickly, we plan to add an additional night this year.”

Barque Gifts welcomed the season and shoppers with a jingle Ladies Shopping Night, complete with holiday cocktails and charcuterie cups. Photos courtesy of Barque Gifts.
Barque Gifts welcomed the season and shoppers with a jingle Ladies Shopping Night, complete with holiday cocktails and charcuterie cups. Photo courtesy of Barque Gifts.

5. Equal Opportunity Events. “Since we usually have an influx of male shoppers right before Christmas, we thought it might be fun to create an event just for them,” Matsler added. “The idea is to ‘Help a Guy Out for the Holidays’ with a Guys Shopping Night. We’ll have snacks and drinks plus complimentary giftwrapping and personalization on some of our best gift products. We will let our regular shoppers (mostly women) fill out a wish list for what they want in the store, asking them to provide the name and address of a guy that might need some ‘help’ shopping, and they will be invited to the event.”

6. Siren Song. Urbanic put a spin on its annual Make & Mingle holiday event by bringing in a local elementary school choir to sing carols. “This was a first and not only magical for all of us, but also an unexpected win … as all of these children came with their whole families!” Woollen laughed. “This led to more attendance and more sales! What was meant to be a party feature actually ended up becoming a sales magnet and brought in new customers.”

Photo courtesy of Barque Gifts.
Photo courtesy of Barque Gifts.

7. Sales Grab. After experiencing success in 2023, Matsler plans on expanding her ready-to-go gifts. Each is already bundled and wrapped in cellophane with a bow, ready to give. “We usually sprinkle these pre- wrapped gift ‘ideas’ around the store for inspiration — like bath salts with a loofah, or honey hand soap and lotion with a towel, or a mug with a box of tea … but last year we couldn’t keep any that we made in stock! This year, we’re already planning which sets we will make so we can order more of those specific items and have them wrapped and ready from the get-go. Grab-and-go gifts are great because they make it easy on the customer and faster for us at checkout too.”

8. Going Private (Label). Throughout 2023, Woollen began slowly rolling out wares for Urbanic’s signature brand in small amounts, finishing off the year with a branded holiday range. “Customers responded really well, so the plan for 2024 is to wholesale our line of products to like-minded boutiques and stores across the country!”

9. Gift With Purchase. Everyone loves a freebie — even when a purchase is required to obtain it, Cantrell observed. “We noticed that when we offered a free tote at $50, people loved that and always wanted one. We need to figure out what our incentive is this year.”

Photo courtesy of Annie’s Blue Ribbon
Photo courtesy of Annie’s Blue Ribbon.

10. Getting Personal. “A lot of our marketing success this last year had to do with our first-person approach,” Woollen recalled. “I wrote a couple personal letters which were sent out to our newsletter list, and those were really well received. A few of our other emails highlighted staff picks, nostalgia and traditions. Our engagement went up. I think people identify and respond to personal elements and the group of people behind a small business, so going forward we will definitely continue on with this.”

11. Close the Display Window. Sim will be taking a more narrow approach to winter holiday-themed merchandise this year. “I think we went a little too hard with very specifically holiday themed goods. I feel like the perk of being a stationery store is being able to stock wonderful paper goods that are not just specific to a season and can be enjoyed and loved all year long.”

Photo courtesy of Annie’s Blue Ribbon
Photo courtesy of Annie’s Blue Ribbon.

12. All About Simplicity. While Urbanic’s events are often the yardstick by which other store’s are measured, they may decrease in number in 2024.

“This past year I would say we produced a few too many events,” Woollen disclosed. “We started with our Sweet Friday kick-off, and halfway through the holiday season it felt like we were an ‘event machine.’ [That] was good on one hand, as there was something for everyone, but also not ideal on spreading out attendance and mostly the exhaustion of our staff (including myself!) Next year we will for sure streamline it all and keep it tight.”

13. Take It to Text. “We’re also planning to prioritize our text-to-shop personal shopping options,” Matsler noted. “Over the past year, texting customers gift ideas within their price budget for various occasions has been very successful, so we’re going to lean into that even more this holiday season.”

Urbanic’s L.A. digs were dressed in chic red and white flags and a bicycle basket filled with gifts. Photo courtesy of Urbanic.
Urbanic’s L.A. digs were dressed in chic red and white flags and a bicycle basket filled with gifts. Photo courtesy of Urbanic.

14. Think Small. Sim is reflecting on her wins from 2023 and will try to elevate those simple moments in a small but meaningful way. “A lot of times I feel like small things make a big impact, and ensuring every guest has an amazing experience while in our shop makes a difference. The holiday season has always been an extra special and magical time in our shop and we feel so honored that so many choose to support our shop and that we get to celebrate the holidays with so many through our shop, our products and our team!”

15. A Nuanced Approach. Cantrell underlined the necessity of remembering every year is different. “Don’t be tied to last year’s numbers by the day, but look more holistically about the time period,” she finished. “And remember: This year Hanukkah is at the same time as Christmas, so all bets are off!”

Sarah Schwartz





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