8 ways for retailers to boost gift, general merchandise sales

With higher margins than food, gifts and general merchandise can grow a store’s bottom line—and drive traffic, as well. Check out this expert’s tips.

Melaina Juntti

April 22, 2024

5 Min Read
Gifts and general merchandise can grow a store’s bottom line—and drive traffic, as well.
Canva/New Hope Network

For independent natural products retailers, gifts and other general merchandise typically account for just a small percentage of total store sales. But when done right, these sections can punch well above their weight.  

“The benefits of carrying gifts are not insignificant,” says Lauren Bartel, wellness category manager at the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association, aka INFRA. “General merchandise is usually a 50% applied margin department, which can both boost overall store margins and allow for promo events like flash sales with deep discounts.”

What’s more, a strong gift or general merch section can elevate a store’s overall value proposition. It can become an essential part of what a retailer is known for and drive traffic to the store.

Another perk of carrying a basic gift assortment? “It can transform your store into a one-stop-shop,” Bartel says. “If a customer needs to pick up a birthday gift, for example, and they know that they can find new cookbooks, local candles, fair-trade linens or one-of-a-kind pottery—as well as gift wrap and a birthday card—at your store, they’re much more likely to do their whole grocery shop with you versus a big-box store.

“No one comes into your store for eggs and leaves with an apron instead,” Bartel notes. “They come in for eggs and leave with eggs and an apron. General merchandise products don’t cannibalize grocery, but they do add to overall store sales.”

Here are eight tips to enhance a store’s gift and general merchandise offerings and ultimately boost sales.

Keep the assortment seasonal and fresh

“It takes a little work, but keeping the gift set appropriate to upcoming holidays and seasons is crucial,” Bartel says. “Switching up the brands and products you carry from quarter to quarter is the best way to keep the department growing.”

Think big themes, says Bartel, and build out displays and merchandise around them. For example, for New Year’s, focus on fitness, journaling and the latest cookbooks. For spring, stock Mother’s Day gifts, gardening accessories and DIY cleaning supplies.

Moving into summer, Bartel recommends grilling tools, outdoor entertaining accessories, reusable beverage bottles and, depending on a store’s location, beach gear. Then in late summer, retailers may want to embrace a kid-centric, back-to-school theme, offering books, art supplies, to-go containers and lunchboxes. “Then for Q4, it’s all things gift—candles, woolens, pottery, linens, etc.,” says Bartel.

Importantly, as soon as a holiday or season passes, move on. Clearance any unsold seasonal items at a compelling discount, Bartel suggests, which will clear space for a fresh set right away.

Bonus hack: “You can absolutely rinse and repeat year after year if a brand, theme or concept does well at a certain time of year,” Bartel says.

Plan ahead

Offering seasonally appropriate gifts and general merchandise cannot be an eleventh-hour endeavor. It’s imperative to plan for big holidays and seasons well in advance. Many general merchandise brands encourage preorders on seasonal items, Bartel notes, and if you wait too long to order, the SKUs you want could be out of stock.

“My team would sit down and plan out months ahead with storyboards and brand suggestions by season or display,” Bartel says of her time as a retailer. “It was fun to brainstorm, and it helped the buyers gear up for and transition away from the changing themes without needing to clearance much product.”


Set standards

Most natural products retailers enact strict standards around ingredients, processing, sourcing and other factors for the foods, beverages, supplements, personal care and home care products they carry. Customers appreciate and trust retailers’ thorough vetting and quality control—and they expect it storewide.  

“I encourage every retailer who carries gifts to create a set of standards or priorities for what they want to carry and to actively seek out those items,” Bartel says. “That is what will differentiate your set from what is sold in big-box stores. And because these items are hard to find in mass market, shoppers are much less likely to compare prices from retailer to retailer.”

Keep eyes peeled for inspiration

From industry trade shows to online wholesale marketplaces, retailers have no shortage of places to cruise for unique gift items to stock. “I love attending local art fairs or checking out local gift shops and farmers markets to get ideas,” Bartel says.

Also lean on your team, she suggests: “Encourage your employees to let you know when they see something neat at another store, or to connect you to their crafty friends.”

Focus on fair trade

Fair-trade coffee and chocolate sell well consistently—and both make great gifts! But there are also plenty of nonfood fair-trade brands and products that can enhance a retailer’s gift or general merchandise sets. For instance, Bartel mentions Fair Anita, which offers handcrafted fair-trade jewelry, bags and other accessories, as well as Andes Gifts, a line of hats, gloves, scarves and more knitted by indigenous communities in Peru and Bolivia.

“Because there are so many great fair-trade gift brands out there, a store can markedly increase the number of fair-trade brands they are working with through this department,” Bartel says. “If they’re tracking and prioritizing fair trade sales, a store might be quite impressed with what percentage of total fair trade sales come from their gift department.”

Champion organic and other values

Beyond fair trade, natural products shoppers like to see other certifications and values-based product characteristics when perusing gifts and general merchandise. Certified organic is a big one, says Bartel. She recommends checking out Maggie’s Organics for clothing, accessories and home goods or Under the Nile’s line of organic, fair-trade clothes and toys for babies and toddlers. 

“Made in the USA” is another strong selling point. Also, “‘clean’ versions of items are always welcome,” Bartel says. “Think palm or soy-wax candles with essential oils versus petroleum-based or synthetic-fragrance candles.”

Support local makers

The gift and general merchandise sections are great vehicles for supporting artists, craftspeople and other creators from a retailer’s own backyard or region. “Local greeting cards, pottery, candles and jewelry make a fun display, especially when you can join forces with other departments and add local soaps, lip balms, teas, honey, etc., as well,” says Bartel.

Keep an eye on price

Finally, make sure prices on gifts and general merch aren’t too steep. “You know your demographic, and you’ll quickly see what price points your shoppers are comfortable with,” Bartel says. “Stay under $25 for most impulse items.”

About the Author(s)

Melaina Juntti

Melaina Juntti is a longtime freelance journalist, copy editor and marketing professional. With nearly two decades of experience in the natural products industry, she is a frequent contributor to Nutrition Business Journal, Natural Foods Merchandiser and NewHope.com. Melaina is based in Madison, Wisconsin, and is passionate about hiking, camping, fishing and live music. 

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