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The gift and occasion industry leans heavily on the idea of celebrating, with the industry as a whole encompassing everything from the concept of gifting through to parties, special dinners, weddings, and simple acknowledgements and shows of affection. And with all manner of occasions being recognised and served by the occasion industry, including a huge selection of occasions which are celebrated in different countries, different cultural settings and various community groups, one of the overriding things about this particular industry is its sheer volume and the fact that it expands far beyond the small gift shop at the end of the high street.
One of the biggest drivers within the industry in recent years has been the rise of vouchers and gift cards, which offer versatile gifting solutions which quite literally take the selection out of the buyers hands and give the recipient complete control – essentially providing a monetary gift but with buying guidelines and limitations.
With the gifts and occasions industry overlapping into so many other sectors however, how can the success of this one industry be tracked and how is the retail landscape changing to accommodate more gifting brands and retailers?
The large success of the gifts and occasions industry lies in its versatility and the fact that it spans across so many retail sectors – widening its stretch in order to appeal to the largest audience possible. If you were to look at the growth of the gifting industry in the past couple of decades, you will see how the sector has grown from a few small shops in tourist locations to something widescale which operates both online and on the high street – with retailers and brands separating themselves into two main groups:
It is the evolution of the former group which has created a challenge within the industry for those smaller retailers, many of whom operate as standalone local gift stores in their community or who produce their stock and sell it through large marketplace sites like NotOnTheHighstreet and Etsy. And while the former group benefit from and have their own advantages within distribution, marketing and general footfall in store, recent years have seen a shift in consumer behaviours – resulting in shoppers taking more time to “buy local” – a trend which we will explore later in this article.
The gift and occasion industry is something which offers huge versatility and a wide ranging spectrum of different retail sectors and groups – from fashion to accessories, homeware goods and more traditional gifting solutions like flowers and chocolates. To the buyer, this presents a number of bonus factors: namely that they can shop smart and use various vouchers and deals across a series of retailers in order to find the perfect gift at the best price, and because the rise in gifting means that many retailers now offer simple but important services such as removing price tags from purchased items and gift wrapping them in store. Some great examples of this in action include London department store Selfridges, which features its own gifting section where shoppers can take products and indulge in having them formerly gift wrapped by an expert team – paying premium costs for extra ribbons, gift bags and decorations.
And the gifts and occasions industry doesn’t stop at gifts – although this alone is enough to present brands and retailers with sufficient products and ranges to choose from; encompassing but not limited to: wedding gifts, birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, children’s gifts, valentines gifts, anniversary gifts, and even holiday gifts and souvenirs.
Other sections within the gifts and occasions industry, and which are rightly able to stand alone based on their overriding success, include gift cards, party decorations, and celebratory cakes.
When it comes to exploring the top retailers within the gifts and occasions industry as a whole, it is important to separate the retail sector into those which are committed gift store retailers and brands, and those which benefit from the gifting market by simply adding gift labels to their existing product line. A good example of the latter sits within the perfume market, whereby health and beauty stores and department stores both fill their shelves with perfume gift sets around Christmas time in particular – leaning on the prominence of their most successful perfume brands and creating package sets which include a perfume and a complimentary body cream or other product, marketing them together as an upsold gift.
Some of the top retailers in the wider retail industry which focus on gifting, particularly during the festive season, include:
This is characterised by the shift in focus both in stores and online, as all of these retailers transform their layout in order to focus on the gift sets that they are looking to sell. These are often the retailers which are able to offer heavy discounts and deals across those gifting items and ranges, with an example being Boots’ infamous “3 for 2” Christmas gift set deal which extends across the entire season.
With all this going on across the high street and mainstream retail sector, how then are standalone gift stores and brands able to compete?
“We live in a souvenir society, a world in which everything we do, everywhere we go, has to be commemorated.” - Charles Gordon, Maclean’s magazine.
One of the leading ways that we see gift stores and gifting brands making a name for themselves in the marketplace is through their unique products which tap into seasonal demands, local attractions and emotional ties, with location playing a huge part in the way that a physical gift store can be run – i.e. whether or not it can tap into a local tourist market looking for souvenirs.
The fact is that gift shops themselves have risen from the commercialisation of various occasions and rely on the consistent demand of buyers looking for ways to acknowledge and celebrate various holidays and landmark celebrations. Gift shoppers vary to include pretty much every age and every demographic, as well as every income level, meaning that for overriding success it is important that gift stores in particular are able to meet the demand of their average customer – whether that be offering affordable products, high end products, or something in the middle. Some of the leading brands in the gifting industry which have seen huge success, despite sitting within a very small section of the gift market, include Yankee Candles which sells seasonal and year-round candles both in its own stores, in larger gift and department stores and online, and Hallmark Cards which also run their own stores and are stocked in a wide variety of other gifting stores, and which crucially tap into the huge success of the gift card market – a niche which was first discovered as early as the Egyptian era!
Other retailers which sit firmly in the gifting industry tend to operate ecommerce stores only, removing themselves from local tourist trends and instead focusing on the much wider occasional operations such as weddings, birthdays, Christmas and valentine’s day. These are the retailers and brands that you are likely to find on marketplace sites like NotOnTheHighStreet and Etsy, as well as running their own ecommerce shops and appearing at local events and seasonal markets. Some popular examples include:
…and basically, every other one of the thousands of brands listed on marketplace sites which offer unique and handmade goods for buyers to choose, often personalise, and send to loved ones.
More than anything, it is these smaller brands which are at the forefront of the recent trends to “buy local” and “shop small” – with gifting brands and retailers from all over the world banding together under this umbrella trend in order to draw shoppers back to the more unique and personal gifting purchases rather than buying from the largescale retailers which offer high end but often impersonal gifting options.
One of the first and most important trends to have hit the gifts and occasions industry is the growing concept of shopping from small and local brands rather than the big retail names in fashion, health and beauty and homewares. This trend is one formed largely through social media, and which heralds the personalisation and style of unique handmade products which are crafted by small businesses all over the world – often to a much higher quality of finish, and – most importantly – crafted with care. As a trend, this idea of shopping small is one which has gained huge momentum in recent years, particularly as more and more of these brands struggle to compete with big industry players – leading to various media campaigns such as “Just A Card” which operates a big social media presence and encourages small businesses to band together and promote the concept of how buying just one card from a small business owner can have a huge positive impact on their day.
Over time, this style of campaigning has developed and has led to a huge increase in the marketing activity of sites like NotOnTheHighstreet which gives smaller brands a platform on which to promote their products and reach wider audiences. The arrival on the market of vouchers and gift cards for these marketplace sites has given the shop small concept an even bigger push and allows buyers to not only purchase gifts for others but also present them with the gift of being able to choose their own item or product.
Another leading trend in the gifts and occasions industry is the rise in experiential gifts and those which think a little more outside the box – with entire sites and brands now dedicated to operating a business allowing shoppers to search and select from various available experiences offered around the country. The experience itself is then passed over to the chosen venue or activity location, however by doing the hard work and pooling together all the best options in one place, the experience gift sites are providing ease for buyers – as well as often hefty discounts and deals which are available if the experience is purchased through them.
Leading on from this is the rise in charity donations and adoption packages to celebrate an occasion – rather than the giving and receiving of gifts themselves. Adopting an animal or a child living in another country has long been a concept which leans on the gifting industry to gain momentum, with many having received the certificate and stuffed toy at some point in their lives which explains how an animal has been adopted and supported in their name. The popularity of this kind of gifting experience has increased the drive within the charity sector to get involved on a more direct level, with many charities now dedicating entire platforms to allowing individuals to ask for donations on social media rather than birthday or occasional gifts. Not only does this trend help the charity drive forward engagement and interaction with otherwise cold audiences, but it also builds social responsibility into the gifts and occasions industry.
And then we have the versatility of the industry itself, and how it responds to various shifts and changes in the way that people are shopping for gifts and the way that people are presenting gifts. E-cards is a great example of how gift brands have had to adapt their style in order to serve an increase in the number of last minute buyers who are looking to celebrate occasions without sending a physical card. E-vouchers is another trend which has become more popular with the rise of ecommerce and online shopping, while the entire online shopping experience is another area which has become very important for the gifts and occasions industry – whether it be the customer service around ordering a celebration cake, buying a personalised card, ordering a gift, or going through the motions of adopting an endangered animal.
For more information on the way in which the gifts and occasions industry accepts and deals with vouchers and deals, head to the Gifts and Occasions page.
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