Fall 2012
Stocking Stuffers that Sell! By Sharon Naylor

Stocking stuffers are small and relatively inexpensive. The perfect impulse buys to increase your holiday sales. Which ones should you stock in your store?

Who doesn’t love a big stocking filled with fun little gifts? There’s a lot of love for the cheery, chock-full stocking as families decide to fill Christmas stockings with a large variety of smaller gifts. Stocking stuffers provide the thrill of a joyful bounty, and you can cash in on this budget-gifting trend. With your collections of under-$10 or under-$20 creative gift possibilities, customers will very likely buy a number of impulse buys and stocking stuffers.

If there was ever a market for impulse buys, stocking stuffers are it. According to a 2002 study by Leo J. Shapiro and Associates for Marketing Support Inc. of Chicago, still considered a retailing industry standard, one-third of consumers make sizeable impulse buys each week, with 25% of those made in specialty stores. The median amount spent, above what shoppers planned to spend, was $30. The 2012 Shopper Engagement Study, recently released by the marketing association Point of Purchase Advertising International, says 76 percent of the average shopper’s purchasing decisions are made in the store, which is an all-time high.

Shoppers are ready to pick up impulse buys for stocking stuffers. But first, you must offer enticing gift options.

What works

Dana Holmes, Editor-in-Chief of Gifts.com and founder of the site’s annual Giftees Awards, says: “The best stocking stuffers are what I call the Three P’s: practical, playful or pretty.” The ideal stocking is filled with a combination of all three, as a stocking filled purely with practical items such as paper clips, pens and cotton balls isn’t likely to inspire childlike glee in anyone.

What could constitute the three Ps? Here are some ideas:

Practical: Cute, themed toothbrushes; patterned pens and matching notepads; magnets; notecard sets; bookmarks; diaries; mini flashlights, keychains and more.

Playful: Word game books; mini puzzles; small plush, notepads with a humorous saying; yo-yos; colored chalk; bubbles containers; and more.

Pretty: Nail polishes; lip balms; lipstick cases; floral or patterned change purses; jewelry; hair accessories, and more.

One of the top stocking stuffer trends that fits all three of these categories at once is socks. “Socks are really in,” says Holmes. “Especially for men,” who can often be the trickiest to buy for. “Men are really into funky socks, to show off a little personality with an unexpected patterned or playful sock worn with a suit. Teen and college guys are also into socks right now, when they’re fun and fit into their color tastes.”

More than kids’ play

“For kids, collectible toys will always be hot,” says Holmes. “For boys, a hot trend is Lego Ninjago figures and accessories from the popular game line.” Also popular are Lego Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings collectibles.

“Look at Squinkies and Hex Bug micro-robotic creatures in scarabs, crabs, ants and other vividly-colored designs as top-trending mini toys for kids’ stockings,” says Holmes. “They’re affordable and they make kids happy.”

“Kids’ toys need to be age-appropriate and safe,” says Stevanne Auerbach, aka “Dr. Toy,” author of Smart Play, Smart Toys: How to Raise a Child With a High PQ. “Select a fun item that is a surprise, perhaps something you may have played with when you were a child.” Retro toys are trendy now, and Auerbach suggests small Etch-a-Sketch, Magna Doodle, colorful Koosh balls and finger puppets for toddlers. “For middle graders, craft kits and tangle toys are big sellers, as are small hand-held games for travel, and sketch pads and pens.”

Candies in bright, vibrant colors, such as lollipops and red laces, are always a winning choice for kids’ stockings as well.

Teen trends

Pre-teens and teen girls love pretty gifts—from stackable bangle bracelets to sparkly lip balms and nail polishes, headbands with floral accents, diaries, and items pertaining to a personal hobby or interest. “Art supplies and craft kits are popular with pre-teens,” says Auerbach. “And sketch pads with packs of colorful art pencils or art chalks encourage their artsy sides.” Dr. Toy also suggests jump rope, stopwatches and fitness journals for teens.

For teen boys, collectibles and little tech items are popular. Holmes says, “Lots of little gadgets are on the market now, like a cool desktop missile shooter that plugs into a USB port and shoots a safe foam bullet four feet.” Holmes says that any type of plug-in game is great for teen boys.

Winning over women

Pretty and practical combined with $25-and-under Vera Bradley items [work for women], says Jill Dudley, owner of Hollyhocks Gifts in Lubbock, Texas. Matching minis such as change purses, pens, notepads and other stylish accessories fill women’s stockings with style. Lilly Pulitzer also fills this niche.

Packs of personalized notecards in colorful patterns and palettes, or in classic formal designs with a single monogram letter or embossed butterfly or other signature motif the recipient loves, also work.

Both Holmes and Jackie Middleton, owner of The Cotton Company in Wake Forest, North Carolina, suggest purse hangers in classic silver as well as colored-stone designs, as hot trends now providing a practical touch in pretty styles. Middleton says key-finder hooks for inside a purse as an item in the trendy organization niche.

Sweets such as chocolate truffles always sell well, and Dudley says, “A top trend now is caramel popcorn packets” for a salty-sweet combination. Baking kits such as bagged brownie mixes, cornbread mixes, and flavored hot chocolates also bring that holiday spirit and indulgence into a stocking.

Spa and pampering items fill ladies’ stockings well, and Dudley suggests grouping bath salts, hand and foot lotions, gels and soaps for a matching collection of scented spa products.

What men want

“Grooming is an ever-growing trend for men,” says Holmes. “So sample sizes of fancy shaving cream are big trends for stocking stuffers now. They’re items men would never buy for themselves.”

Additional practical gifts like keychains also make the grade. “We sell a lot of John Hart leather keychains made in the USA,” says Dudley. And pens are an especially hot-seller for men’s stocking gifts.

Sports-themed items in unexpected forms also attract buys for men. “We sell a collegiate hot chocolate mix line,” says Middleton. “For our University of North Carolina flavor, for instance, when hot water is added, the hot chocolate turns Carolina blue.” Middleton says that magnets made of metals, such as copper wire, add a masculine flair to this practical gift, which men can use at home or at the office. Also look at cufflinks especially in today’s pop trends such as Marvel comics lines.

Pet treats

Top Christmas stocking items for pets include apparel such as vests and booties. “Pet apparel gift style has changed,” says Holmes. “At first, everything was sparkly and fluffy, and now pets get more classic styles, such as a $5 hoodie or raincoat. Nothing expensive.”

Organic, all-natural pet treats also top the must-have list for pet stocking stuffers, as do organic shampoos and ‘pampering’ items, new leashes, charms for their collars, and toys.

Gourmet goods

Lindsay Roberts, gift expert and editor of TheGiftInsider.com says the best stocking stuffers are edible. Some of her top picks:

  • Fudge
  • Plush Puffs marshmallows, wrapped with multiple flavors
  • Chocolate Whoopie Pies
  • Chocolate-covered Oreos
  • Flavored tea bags
  • Gluten and dairy-free hot chocolate bags

On an impulse

“We display our stocking stuffers on one table with a sign, and we have a Christmas tree on which we hang stockings filled with our small stocking stuffer items,” says Dudley. Shoppers’ curiosity leads them to check out what’s in each stocking leading to a top impulse buy strategy: get them to touch it, and they’re more likely to buy it.

Rick Segel, retail marketing expert, writer and speaker, says that when a customer touches a product, they’re 50% more likely to buy it.

“I prefer grouping all stocking stuffers in one area, preferably in the main aisle on the way towards the cash registers,” says Natalie Tan, retail consultant and expert at Retail Excellence. “This way, it is a convenient one-stop shopping area. Creating a full feature display of just stuffers creates visual interest in the merchandise, and multi-level displays – such as stuffers placed on tiered racks, as well as on nesting tables to the side of the display table – attracts interest” more than a flat tabletop layout.

Your point-of-purchase displays can position stocking stuffers right in front of buyers. Group like colors together, to create a more effective eye-catcher, and select sparkly items for your counter space.

With a little thought and smart merchandising, you can increase the average sales every transaction this holiday season. Stocking stuffers are after all, the ultimate smart sales strategy!

Mouse over images below to view.

Sharon Naylor

Naylor is the author of 30 wedding books, including Your Special Wedding Vows and Your Special Wedding Toasts.SharonNaylor.net

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