The 2015 holiday season may not end up being one for the record books … but, for many retailers, it’s shaping up to be a relatively healthy season, according to the National Retail Federation, which released results from its annual consumer poll on Sunday.
“U.S. holiday shopping is on track for a modest 3.7 percent rise this year after strong turnout during the Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend and thanks to strong online sales,” according to that report.
To get more detailed insight on how florists fared on Thanksgiving, and what they’re predicting for Christmas, SAF also conducted its own member survey.
For many of those respondents, Thanksgiving was, well, a bit of a turkey.
About 37 percent of respondents said Thanksgiving sales dropped this year, compared to last year. Around 31 percent said they remained the same and 30 percent said they increased.
Delving into the data, among the smallest shops, those with less than $300,000 in annual sales, 50 percent of respondents experienced a Thanksgiving drop, 24 percent said sales were flat and 20 percent said they increased.
At the other end of the size spectrum, among shops with at least $1 million in annual sales, about 49 percent reported an increase, 32 percent said sales were on par with 2014 results and about 20 percent saw a decrease.
(SAF also reviews data by region; most responses seemed fairly consistent across geographical areas.)
One respondent in Concord, New Hampshire, who experienced a sales increase, said good weather played a role in his positive outcome. “Last year, we had a huge snow and ice storm,” he explained. “The whole state of New Hampshire was in a state of emergency.”
A florist in Escondido, California, noted “unusual fall arrangements” and an “eclectic style” helped the shop grow holiday sales; other respondents with similar success noted their use of unique containers, social media, signage and sandwich boards, along with direct mail, discounts and, in some cases, radio, print and TV ads.
Even when florists used “traditional” outreach methods, they seemed to tinker with them for better results. In Philadelphia, one respondent found that a small tweak, putting the $39.99 price in a mass email subject line, helped increase open and click-through rates by about 20 percent.
This is the first time we did this,” the respondent explained, adding, “[Our] average sale increased by 1 percent.”
A number of respondents noted customers’ tendency to wait until the last minute —and, sometimes, the very, very last minute: “People were calling at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving eve to get flowers delivered before Thanksgiving,” wrote a florist in Pittsburgh.
That procrastination habit isn’t a new trend, and many respondents prepped their business for that compressed run, and tight budgets. “Having centerpieces and arrangements ready for walk-in sales in the $35 and under range” helped one business in New York’s Westchester County hold sale levels steady.
While some florists said the holiday has become a non-floral entity — with very few customers looking for centerpieces — others maintained that with a little creativity, it’s possible to recapture people’s excitement.
“I set up a festive table with small arrangement on it,” wrote a florist in Bangor, Pennsylvania. “I think people are turning away from the candle centerpiece arrangements and looking for a small bunch of flowers.”
Beyond Thanksgiving, about 37 percent of florists said Black Friday sales remained about the same, compared to 2014 returns. About 22 percent saw a drop and 20 percent saw an increase. (The rest weren’t sure of results or didn’t track the event.)
Results were similar for Small Business Saturday (about 36 percent saw flat sales; 28 percent saw a drop and almost 18 percent saw an uptick). Only about 11 percent of respondents said online sales grew on Cyber Monday, compared to 2014. Forty percent said they stayed the same and about 19 percent saw a drop.
Looking outside of the floral industry to the retail landscape as a whole, the NRF said that its survey of 4,281 consumers, conducted on Nov. 27 and Nov. 28 by research firm Prosper Insights & Analytics, showed that shoppers on average spent about $300 over the four-day weekend through Sunday. (The NRF said that is not comparable to last year’s figure of $381 due to changes in methodology.) It found 151 million people would shop in stores and online over the weekend, beating its own forecast from a few weeks ago by some 11 percent. Almost equal numbers of shoppers visited physical stores and shopped online, it said.
SAF survey results seem to indicate that many florists may not be investing much money or effort in competing against bigger operations on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. While about 43 percent of respondents said they promoted Small Business Saturday, less than a quarter promoted Black Friday deals and only about 16 percent promoted Cyber Monday specials.
The picture is brighter when talk turns to Christmas: About 42 percent of respondents expect to see a sales increase this year. Another 40 percent expect comparable sales and only about 11 percent said they are planning for a drop-off.
Among smaller shops (those with less than $300,000 in annual sales), about 40 percent predict an uptick in Christmas sales; 31 percent said they think sales will be flat and about 16 percent are bracing for a decrease.
In looking at shops with $1 million-plus in annual sales, 60 percent are gearing up for an increase, a third are prepping for flat sales and 7 percent are predicting a drop.
When asked about promising holiday promotions, recipients listed things such as social media posts and contests, in-store events and open houses, discounts, sales, direct mail, emails and advertising pushes in traditional media outlets. Visits from Santa and collaborations with charitable groups also were popular promotions.
Other respondents reported more off-the-beaten-path efforts. One florist in Iowa has gotten high-tech with her displays. “I bought a flat screen TV for the front window with pictures rotating 24/7,” she explained. “This has brought in a lot of traffic.”
Taking advantage of the current Stars Wars craze —“The Force Awakens” comes to theaters Dec. 18 — one florist in Phoenix, Arizona, is offering “photos with Star Wars characters and Santa.” (Another respondent noted plans to stock Charlie Brown goods, in a possible nod to the popular “Peanuts” movie, now showing in theaters across the country.)
SAF also queried respondents about hot items and trends for the holidays. A few highlights from those answers:
- Bid red and green adieu? Traditional colors will never go away completely of course, but several respondents noted demand for other color combos, including more “rustic” and “natural” looks and pairings of white, blue and silver.
- Think beyond the centerpiece. Décor items and décor services seem to be an area of focus for some florists with optimistic holiday outlooks. “We do extremely well with high end ribbons and customized wreaths keeping two designers busy 10 hours per day, every day,” said a respondent from Boston. “We carry fresh cut trees, roping, etc., so those items are strong in home decorating, as well as commercial function work, [which] all seem stronger than usual.”
- Watch your words. Want to attract attention to your shop via social media? Pay attention to your lingo, suggests a respondent from Halifax, Nova Scotia. “Buzzwords like natural, bespoke and organic really help sales,” she said. (Also big in her area? Owls. Hoo knew?)
- Embrace the little things. Smaller gifts, perfect to grab and go, could be a big seller this year for a shop in Ipswich, Massachusetts: “planters, succulents and smaller pick-up items” will be decking the shop’s shelves.
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