Gifts with Sell-By Dates

Copy 2 of Picture(22).jpgYesterday, one of my colleagues told me an interesting retail industry factoid: most Thai supermarkets tend to triple their average monthly sales in the month of December. In other words, just over 21% of a supermarket’s annual sales are generated in the last month of the year. I could imagine that many department and specialty stores generating that kind of sales spike (typically 25%+ of annual sales), and definitely the toy sector, which generates upwards of 70-75% of annual revenues during the Christmas season. But groceries? It didn’t make sense to me.

And then it hit me: holiday gift baskets. Thais have a tradition of sending out supermarket holiday gift baskets to preferred clients, family members, and elders. These tend to consist of consumer products hand-arranged & assembled (much like a floral bouquet) in a woven wicker basket and then shrink wrapped for delivery. Prices can range from about Baht 1,000 (US$25) for an eclectic mix of goodies such as juice, talcum powder, and non-dairy creamer, to a more wallet-busting Baht 12,000 (US$300) for tony items like Johnny Walker Blue and other high-priced, imported consumables.

Cynically speaking, gift baskets are such a terrific scam for grocers, both figuratively and in some cases literally. Figuratively because even after accounting for the cost of the basket and the labor used to assemble these things, the retail mark-up on these baskets are fantastic, and I’m hoping my company sells enough of these things to goose our annual bonuses (insert dripping sarcasm here, but not too much: Papa needs a brand-new plasma screen!). Literally because some less-than-reputable supermarkets (not my company!) have in the past used gift baskets as a means of clearing out excess inventory, mostly less-popular unsalable items and in many cases expired and rotten merchandise. Not only do these supermarkets have a way to dump crap inventory before the close of the fiscal year, but they get to book sales of otherwise unsalable merchandise at a significant premium to non-holiday prices rather than taking the write-off. Buddha bless the entrepreneurial spirit and creative accounting!

If you do partake in this ritual, my advice would be to hand-pick the merchandise off the shelves yourself (checking the sell-by dates first hand) and watch the supermarket employee assemble and wrap the basket. A better suggestion would be just to buy a bottle of Blue Label and get plastered with your client/friend/elder and use the savings for a pair of Montecristos.

Incidentally, can anyone tell me if supermarket gift baskets are a regular part of holiday gift giving in other countries around the world? I don’t seem to recall this going on in the United States, though I’m surprised that the large supermarket chains and consumer product companies haven’t tried to start a similar tradition stateside (they could take a lesson from the greeting card companies and confectioners with regards to hawking products on Easter, Valentine’s day, and Mother’s Day).

8 Comments so far

  1. him (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2004 @ 12:04 pm

    In the UK they are a decliing trend. These days you only tend to find very big, expensive ones from the more upmarket shops and containing items that are either xmas-y food or very nice food that you wouldn’t usually purchase yourself. They really are something I associate with the older (ie pensioner) age group.

    Over here, I’m (once again) at a loss. I walked into my local branch of Boots the other day to find the sales girls making baskets containing a cheap shower gel and two packets of (nice) cookies.

  2. Ben Harris (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2004 @ 1:56 pm

    The low-end ones are also not as popular in Australia (anymore). If either of you feel the urge to give, I humbly accept all expensive bottles of alcohol.

  3. scuba (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2004 @ 2:02 pm

    Christmas gift baskets do exist in the US & Canada, but tend to be more down-market, so I’m guessing you haven’t seen them because of your hi-so upbringing :-) “Consumer goods you wouldn’t purchase yourself” can easily mean cheap shower gel and two packets of nice cookies if you’re trying to make ends meet and treats like this are a luxury.

    There are also downmarket credit outfits that run “Chrismas club” type savings plans where you put $1-5 a week in or something and at the end of the year, you get a couple of gift baskets to send out. As a finance guru, you can certainly see the tremendous scamming opportunities in this scheme – maybe you should suggest it to your biz dev people…. :-)

  4. Paul (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2004 @ 2:47 pm

    scuba: i’ve been called many things, but hi-so has never been one of them =D. think i can turn old t-shirts and shorts into a cosmopolitan fashion trend?

    i’ve never seen the gift baskets in the states, but my parents give out those big tins of danish butter cookies to each of their patients around christmas time (they wipe out the local costco’s buying up hundreds of these things). most of their patient base is low-income mexican families, and they really appreciate the personal touch (they become obsessed with free cookies, which is not unlike unemployed MBA students!); the word of mouth has been excellent for my dad’s practice. they should teach university courses in marketing and customer service!

  5. scuba (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2004 @ 4:11 pm

    babe, anything you wear is a cosmo fashion trend as far as I’m concerned.

    Googling “christmas gift basket” turns up a couple hundred thousand links and 8 paid links. I recall seeing catalogues with baskets of cheeses and hams and such around cristmastime, but not pre-packaged in supermarkets like they do here. Perhaps the economics don’t work out with higher labor costs.

  6. Baba (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2004 @ 4:23 pm

    In Portugal, we don’t do hampers of any sort. But giving dried cod is a very nice present, because a) it’s extremely expensive these days, b) it’s what we traditionally eat for Christmas but due to high costs, less people are able to afford it.

    And interestingly enough there’s no sell by date.

    Now, I bet you didn’t know that.

  7. Paul (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2004 @ 4:34 pm

    skoobs: if my dress-style is cosmo, then you and him pretty much join me among the well-heeled, well-dressed elite

    baba: nothing says “birth of the savior” more than the gift of dried cod. and no, i didn’t know there wasn’t a sell-by date on dried cod!

  8. Scuba (unregistered) on December 23rd, 2004 @ 4:54 pm

    I’ve always considered myself quite the fashion plate – are you implying that’s delusional in some way?

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.