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unwrapping a christmas gift

Holiday Products and Packaging Make for Great Revenue Stuffers

Steve Heisler

unwrapping a christmas gift

Brands that produce special offerings for the winter holiday season stand to gain customers, recognition and buzz—so long as their packaging demonstrates differentiators

Much ado is made about Starbucks leading into fall and continuing through the winter holidays. The mania kicks off with Pumpkin Spice Latte season in late August or early September, when lines form outside stores with customers eager to sip their favorite perennial drink. Next, the winter festivities grow more visible: All Starbucks beverages are served in cups traditionally decked out in snowflakes, wreaths, snowpeople and an aggressive red and green motif.

holiday starbucks cup

Holiday products, complete with holiday packaging, are big sellers for retailers, and marketers benefit big by getting in on the trend. Two years ago, Starbucks holiday profits declined because, according to COO Roz Brewer and as reported by Business Insider, stores “didn’t sufficiently reflect the festive environment.” In 2018, stores added more décor and dressed their baristas in red aprons, and sales rose to $6.63 billion—an increase of 9%, as reported by CNBC.

Holiday offerings can take many forms. Beers arrive in sampler 12-packs that include brand favorites and special winter-only brews. Cosmetics companies assemble advent calendars, allowing customers to try a new product on each of the 12 days leading up to major winter holidays. This year, Trader Joe’s is offering seasonal foods such as ornament cookies and scented pinecones, available for a limited time.

Questions to Ask Before Offering Holiday Products:

  • What product will work best? Is your holiday offering distinct enough from the rest of your product or service line to warrant special treatment?
  • What are competitors doing? Will your holiday product and its packaging differentiate the brand from others?
  • What’s the budget? Do you want to keep things simple or shoot for the moon?
  • What form should the packaging take? Boxes and gift bags each require distinct materials and present a different look and feel.
  • How should it look? Does the holiday packaging give off the impression that this is a limited-time product? Does the design fit within your brand parameters?
  • How much should be made? Aim for the low end on quantity without running out too early in the holiday season.

Packaging plays a fundamental role in the sale of holiday goods, even for online shoppers. Almost half of consumers (46%) prefer to physically hold and feel holiday products before making a purchasing decision, and during the week before Christmas, 42% of all online sales are in the form of customers who want to then pick up the items from the store itself.

Here’s more on how to incorporate holiday packaging into your seasonal product plan to stand out from competition and capture the spirit of shoppers.

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Avoid Over-Saturation

Magic Hat, a Vermont-based craft brewer, brews a special beer each holiday season called Feast of Fools—a strong raspberry stout available to purchase as single bottles. The label depicts snow-covered castles, pine trees and the faint silhouette of Santa piloting a sleigh, with a few modifications between years. The beer is a premium product meant to be gifted to hosts of holiday meals.

Schuyler Blackman, head of imagination and formulation relations at Magic Hat Brewing, says the company used to offer holiday 12-pack samplers, which included Feast of Fools, but discontinued them due to increased competition. “We started to hear from retailers that there were just too many seasonal beers—everybody had one,” he says. The craft beer category is crowded and many of the packs looked the same, which created issues for wholesalers who were having trouble offloading excess stock.

Design with an Eye for the Brand

Holiday packaging offers an opportunity to try different designs and present patterns, colors and iconography not typically reserved for day-to-day branding. But brands shouldn’t take too far a departure from the norm.

“Whatever you do in regard to your packaging, make sure it properly reflects your brand and that your logo and company name are still displayed prominently,” says Callie Hinman, content strategist at Affinipay. “Recipients should still be able to recognize the boxes as being from your company. In other words, don’t completely sacrifice your brand identity for the sake of being clever or standing out.”

Editorial photograph
Stella Artois is one of many brands producing special holiday packaging this year.

Magic Hat follows this protocol when putting together its Feast of Fools label. The beer is decorated with illustrations and clean lines, which jibes with the rest of Magic Hat’s artistry. The look and feel of Feast of Fools stands out on a shelf and sets Magic Hat aside from other brewers—while staying true to the company’s brand.

Emphasize Pragmatism

Convenience remains a key influencer in purchasing decisions, so it can help to sell holiday products in ready-to-gift packaging. This includes wrapping holiday products in attractive paper, or offering them in gift bags decorated with tissue paper along the inside. Brands can include cards as well, or a space on the box for customers to write notes to recipients.

The opportunity to gussy up gift-ready products continues inside the box or bag. “Include little extras you wouldn’t normally to help make a splash—a thank-you note, a coupon for a discount on a future purchase or, if it makes sense, a sample of one of your [other] products,” Hinman says.

Brands that prioritize ease-of-gifting see dividends on value and sales. According to labelvalue.com, people who received wrapped versus unwrapped gifts tended to rate those items more favorably, which translates into shoppers feeling more positive toward purchasing wrapped items. Holiday packaging also encourages impulse buys and helps customers associate a brand with positive emotions.

Aim for the Low End on Quantity

It can be difficult to determine exactly how much of a holiday product to produce, as sales tend to fluctuate year to year. Blackman cautions against overestimating customer demand, as excess stock can be harmful to brands.

“You want your retailer to be out of it,” he says. “You want to try to pick up all those sales you can, but you ideally don’t want to dump for discounts or anything like that, because it’s a bad look from a brand perspective.” Selling out of a product also builds buzz and can lead to sales next year.

Be particularly mindful when determining the amount of packaging to produce. “If this is the first year you’ve decided to make holiday-specific packaging, take a look at sales and shipping data from previous years to get an idea of what kind of volume to expect,” Hinman says. “The other big factor to consider is your budget. Ultimately, your goal is to provide an exceptional shipping experience and encourage customer loyalty and repeat purchases, but you need to make sure you’re not spending so much time and money on designing and incorporating this seasonal packaging into your workflow that it negatively affects profitability. Custom packaging vendors usually have price breaks as well, which can help bring your costs down.”

Steve Heisler is staff writer at the American Marketing Association. His work can be found in Rolling Stone, GQ, The A.V. Club and Chicago Sun-Times. He may be reached at sheisler@ama.org.