The next few months are bulging with gift-selling opportunities, with Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Easter just around the corner.

And the experts reckon that shoppers will want to impulsively treat themselves - and others - more than ever this year. They will just be looking for less expensive options.

Jonathan Summerley, senior buyer at speciality confectionery cash and carry Hancocks, says: "There’s no doubt that it’s a tough market out there, but despite the credit crunch people still want to buy treats for themselves and gifts for others. They just don’t want to buy at the premium end any more. And I think confectionery is one of the most popular solutions and is pretty recession-proof."

But it’s as important as ever to make the best of your offer. A recent survey by Harris International Marketing (Him) found that 27% of convenience store shoppers would shop for a present for a friend, partner or family member in a c-store. However, only 4% of those interviewed said they were actually buying a gift on that day.

According to Him, a few simple tweaks to your existing range and merchandising can up profits, for example moving the card and gift displays to a prominent position in store at key times, stocking quality cards, and hanging gift bags near bottles of wine and boxes of chocolates. The company says most gift purchases are made during evenings and weekends, and the most popular gifting occasion is a birthday.Among forecourt shoppers the most popular gifts are flowers (43%) and chocolates (29%).

According to the Flowers and Plants Association, we are about to enter the busiest time of year for cut flower selling. And for some this might be the only time of year they buy flowers, so it’s important to make the most of the opportunity. Andrea Caldecourt, chief executive of the Association, says: "’Garage flowers’, for some people, are synonymous with poor quality, poor design and poor taste on the part of the buyer. But it needn’t be like that. With just a few simple steps and some attention to detail you can have a successful, profitable, attractive new line for your store. People want to buy flowers; you just need to make it easy for them."

Caldecourt’s advice includes maintaining a good flower display, handling flowers carefully, and keeping them out of the rain and wind. Companies providing flowers to retailers include Blooms, which can supply products on a sale or return basis. Greetings cards can work in the same way, with retailers only paying for the cards they sell - and returning the rest. And according to Midlands-based company Cardline Greetings, which offers this service, card sales have increased dramatically over the last few years, and the average shopper now buys a whopping 55 cards per year.

Chocolate and confectionery are major gifting opportunities this spring. The big three - Cadbury, Mars and Nestlé - are all hoping for a better performance than last year when the early Easter hit sales. This year Easter Sunday falls later, on April 12. But Graham Walker, Nestlé UK trade communications manager, says there’s more to spring gifts than Easter eggs. "Spring is a key opportunity for impulse gifting and sharing, which represents a massive 50% of the spring confectionery market. Stocking the right boxed chocolates at this time of year will allow retailers to fully benefit from a range of gifting occasions." Key products for gifting in forecourts include Quality Street 275g and 480g and After Eight 300g.

Cadbury’s campaign for early 2009 is focusing on ’bringing new life to the pleasure of spring’ through on-pack design, advertising and new products. Kate Harding, Cadbury trade communications manager, advises: "Overall, spring is a key time for confectionery purchases, so both availability and visibility are key. If consumers cannot easily find products or there is a limited quantity on display, they are less likely to buy. Making it easy for consumers to find products will mean that they will be able to help them enjoy the magic of the season as early as possible, driving sales throughout the season."

And finally, let’s not forget books. Alan Pemberton, managing director of North West Books, says the company’s display unit is perfect for independent retailers. He adds: "It lends itself to maps and Highway Codes on the top shelf, bargain paperback novels on shelves two and three, and kids colouring and activity books on shelves four and five. It can also be used for promotional activity at different times of the year, such as Mother’s Day, holiday reading, back to school, summer and Christmas annuals. It is particularly effective in ’local’ forecourts where customers are not necessarily filling up. In the transient sites, he says, children’s activity books like Mr Men and Thomas the Tank Engine go well.


=== Tips for retailers ===

* Move card and gift displays into a prominent position in store at the key times (evenings and weekends).

* At the very minimum offer a range of cards especially for birthdays and blank cards as a multi-purpose solution.

* Stock quality cards rather than cheap ones.

* Dress up bottles of booze with a bow or ribbon during keys events like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

* Move boxes of chocolates near to bottles of flowers or champagne to create a gifting zone in-store.

* Hang gift bags near bottles of wine, champagne and boxes of chocolates.

* Have tissue paper for flowers and offer to remove price tags.

* Offer a gift deal - buy a bottle of wine/champagne and get a box of chocolates half price.

Source: Him