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JOHN RYAN

RETAIL ENVIRONMENT

Surviving the onslaught Cards are available everywhere these days, John Ryan looks at how specialist retailers can set themselves apart from other retailers who stock cards and provide a quality product and service.

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ard shops are under siege. It doesn’t really matter if the name above the door is Scribbler, Paperchase or one of the many surviving indies, the barbarians at the gate are the mass merchants, all of which want to have a little piece of the greetings card cake. Practically, this means that these days you can buy a greetings card in M&S, B&M, Tesco, Sainsbury’s or even a petrol station and for the most part, the bulk of what’s on display ‘does the job’. All of which means that if your sole modus vivendi is selling cards, there is more competition today than there has even been. But are the experiences of buying something to mark an occasion in a host store that just happens to have cards as part of its mix the same as visiting a dedicated merchant? The answer is, ‘in some ways, but not all’. The reasons the big retailers all sell cards are in fact pretty obvious. These are items that don’t take up much space (the sales per sq. m on a card gondola are high) and on which a hefty mark-up can

be hung. Or in other words, they earn their keep. For the most part, this means that if you want to buy a greetings card in, say, Next, it’s an oddson bet that the space devoted to the category will be small and heavily merchandised. And they do carry the considerable advantage of being at hand in a multi-department store when gifts are on the agenda as being part of a one-stop shop that allows a shopping mission to be accomplished without too much mucking about. But this also means they function as an add-on, a retail afterthought. What happens, however, when a gift is not being bought as part of a package but when there is instead a real desire to say something to somebody else, something that matters (to the donor, at least)? This is where the card shop should actually be able to offer an experience that other stores do not. Imagine for a moment that the mission is to congratulate somebody who’s about to get married. Will a cartoon-like figure of a bride-to-be surrounded by ribbons and clutching a glass of fizz, poised in the act of cutting a cake with her equally dashing cartoon groom be enough? Maybe, but if the person getting married is anything more

Your job is to offer choice, real choice

than a casual acquaintance, possibly not. Step forward the specialist card retailer. This is the outlet for those needing to show they care and it is the job of the retailer in question not to be run-of-the-mill (one of the problems that besets a well-known American-owned chain that is currently in the throes of downsizing is that its proposition is largely the same as all of the non-specialist purveyors of greetings cards). What can be done therefore to ensure that you keep your head above water in the face of an ever-growing number of retailers that offer greetings cards? Simple really. Get out and have a look not at other specialist card retailers (there aren’t actually that many of them), but at the biggest high street chains and make sure that there is a decent amount of clear blue water between them and you. As you will be only too well aware, at any given moment there are massive numbers of cards from which to select. Your job is not to pander to the ‘I need a card to go with the gift’ crowd (although this will certainly form a part of your customer base), but to offer choice, real choice. Not easy, but it is essential and if you don’t do it, trouble lies ahead.

John Ryan is Stores Editor of Retail Week, a position he has held for more than two decades, and managing director of Newstores, a daily information service on what’s new in retail across the world. @newstores / www.newstores.co.uk +44 7710 429926

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