Selling at a Christmas market is a great way to expand your business. It helps you reach new customers during the festive season and increase sales. Christmas markets offer a big opportunity for small businesses to showcase their goods and services during a prime consumer spending season.
In this article, we cover everything you need to know about selling at UK Christmas markets as a small business.
Square Virtual Terminal
Accept and record payments on your computer.
What are Christmas markets?
Christmas markets have a long history. Their roots go back to Vienna’s December Market which took place in the Middle Ages.
German Protestant reformer Martin Luther is believed to have encouraged the development of the Christmas markets that we know today. Back in the 16th century, the Lutherans encouraged gift-giving to celebrate the birth of Christ. It is said that churches encouraged merchants to sell near their doors to entice people to services.
Christmas markets are now hugely popular across Europe and in the UK. Businesses sell festive food, crafts and gift items from pop-up stalls in towns and cities. The more famous Christmas markets attract people from all over the UK and sometimes from overseas too. Even the smaller ones attract people from across the local area.
What to sell at a Christmas market
Christmas markets are known for offering unique and artisanal gifts. Some of the best things to sell at UK Christmas markets include:
People come to Christmas markets to look for unique gifts that they can’t get on the high street. This includes items such as handmade candles, paintings, pottery or jewellery.
Many people visit Christmas markets in the evening. This is both after offices close and when the lights come on. Vendors therefore have a great opportunity to sell food and drink (generally hot).
Popular, seasonal options include mulled cider, mulled wine and typical Christmas market foods such as hotdogs, burgers and cones of chips. Sweet items, such as waffles and strawberries coated in melted chocolate, also go down a treat.
Books often make for popular Christmas gifts. Even though the likes of Amazon have made ebooks popular, there’s still a huge demand for real, physical books. Second-hand book stalls remain popular, especially among people looking for a Christmas market bargain. Some market-goers also like to shop for old treasures and antique items.
This may seem obvious, but no list would be complete without it. Christmas markets are a great place to sell Christmas-themed merchandise. It’s therefore always worth checking your stock to see what you have that fits the festive mood. In particular, if you have old stock you’re eager to move on, see if you can give it a Christmas touch in some way. This can make it much more attractive.
Artwork and photography
Framed artwork and photographic prints make for wonderfully unique gifts for decorating a loved one’s home. Prints of iconic local landmarks, football stadia etc. do particularly well at Christmas markets.
The festive period is an inherently social time of year. People want to look their best, while also protecting their skin from the impact of the cold weather. As such, cosmetics can be great sellers at a Christmas market. Especially those that are handmade from naturally sourced ingredients, vegan, or otherwise distinct from the mass-manufactured cosmetics that dominate the shelves of chemists and supermarkets.
When Christmas comes around, many pet owners like to involve their furry, feathered and scaly friends in the festivities. Bespoke pet products can do very well at Christmas markets, such as treats, clothing, accessories, or anything else that shows pets how much they are loved.
Your best stock
If you’re an established seller, a Christmas market is the best time to showcase a new collection.
Popular Christmas markets in the UK
There are many very popular and established Christmas markets in the UK. In 2023, they include:
Manchester Christmas Market
Manchester may not have been the first British city to host a German-style Christmas market. That honour goes to Lincoln (which has sadly replaced its Christmas market with smaller events). Nonetheless, the Manchester Christmas Market is among the nation’s most popular and iconic, bringing festive cheer to the capital of the north since 1998.
The Manchester Christmas Market 2023 will run from 10th November to 21st December. It will feature a total of 220 stalls across 9 sites throughout the city centre. Precise locations have yet to be announced.
In addition to traditional German market stands, there are many vendors from across Europe and even further afield, offering an array of amazing Christmas products.
For those there for the food, some of the things on offer include hog roasts, paella and traditional Belgian hot chocolate. There’s also a host of exciting street performers, magic shows and musical performers.
York Christmas Market
York’s stunning architecture and cobbled streets make it a wonderful place to enjoy a spot of traditional Christmas shopping. York Christmas Market, better known as the York St. Nicholas Fair, runs from 16th November to 22nd December 2023. York Christmas market was rated as the fifth-best Christmas market in the world and the second-best Christmas market in the UK last year.
The main reason York’s Christmas market stands out is because it’s held in the stunning Mediaeval surroundings of York’s old town. The second reason is that York really pulls out all the stops for this event. That’s why it’s won so many awards.
In terms of merchandise, obviously, the emphasis is on Christmas – or at least winter-appropriate goods. Vendors of more general merchandise may still be able to get a place if their products are both high-quality and unique.
Chester Christmas Market
Another sterling entry from the North West. Chester’s famous Tudor architecture and cobbled streets are particularly charming during the festive season, drawing shoppers from across the nation to enjoy the Christmas markets. Chester’s Christmas market runs from 18th November to 22nd December, giving shoppers plenty of time to enjoy all that the city has to offer.
Over 70 traditional wooden chalets will encircle a gigantic Christmas tree placed in the city centre, offering traditional mulled wine, handmade gifts and all manner of food from traditional hog roasts to waffles.
Bath Christmas Market
Bath Christmas Market will open on 23rd November and its last day will be 10th December. It is a treasure trove of all things Christmas.
Items range from handmade gifts to tree decorations to mince pies and mulled wine. The Christmas market stalls are generally run by local independent sellers. Many of these also participate in the regular Bath Artisan Market.
This market is considered to be one of the most attractive in the UK, due to its location around Bath Cathedral. It also puts on plenty of Christmas lights. This year is the market’s 20th anniversary so it will probably be even more of an event than usual.
Birmingham Christmas Market
The Frankfurt Christmas Market, Birmingham opens on the 2nd of November and runs right up until Christmas Eve in 2023. This is the largest German market outside of Germany and Austria. It’s home to over 80 tiny alpine huts where German vendors sell everything from handmade wooden toys to jewellery and unique decorations.
The event, split between New Street and Victoria Square, is also well known for its feast of Bavarian food, drink and music. There’s usually a bustling entertainment scene during evenings and weekends when locals have time to party.
Edinburgh Winter Festival
Edinburgh’s festive market is so wonderful that it goes beyond Christmas. Incorporating Hogmanay celebrations, the Edinburgh Winter Festival is scheduled to run from November 2023 through to January 2024, although exact dates have not yet been confirmed.
The Christmas market (which takes place on East Princes Street Gardens) started as a German Christmas market, but soon opened up to non-German vendors, becoming a winter market rather than just a Christmas one. Nonetheless, shoppers can find a wide range of traditional Christmas market fare including crafts, handmade clothing and jewellery. As well as the usual traditional food and drink options, shoppers can expect more idiosyncratic fare such as hot Irn Bru and vegan pigs in blankets.
As well as the bustling markets, the festival will also include the Castle of Light, a spectacular light display in the city’s iconic castle and the famous torchlight procession which will take place on the 29th of December.
Bristol Christmas Market
From the 3rd of November to the 23rd of December, Bristol’s Christmas market is alive with bright lights, outstanding entertainment, sumptuous food and drink and, of course, fantastic shopping.
Nestled in the Broadmead piazza, shoppers will find a feast for the senses with the famous Jäger Barn Bar providing winter beverages, such as mulled cider and traditional German Glühwein, with mouth-watering fare such as a traditional hog roast, German bratwurst and Yorkshire pudding wraps, as well as sweet treats like crepes and churros.
After their refreshments, shoppers are free to explore the 5 festive stalls to find unique hand-crafted gifts and treats.
Benefits of selling at Christmas markets
There’s a whole host of benefits to selling at a Christmas market. Most of them relate to the fact that you get to showcase your brand and products to a new range of people. Additionally, it presents an opportunity to mix up items you want to move quickly with items you plan to stock over the longer term. Just make sure you take the opportunity to encourage people to connect with you on social media.
But let’s not forget that Christmas markets are also a whole lot of fun to attend. They can provide great networking opportunities and a chance to chat with like-minded small business owners.
Christmas market stall hire in 2023: What stallholders need to know
Larger markets generally have their own websites. These have a section on what you need to do to register for them. Generally, this is to submit an application to the market organiser. Christmas markets in the UK are usually organised by project management companies. It’s therefore likely that you’ll be directed to the organiser’s own website or given an email from their domain.
Submit your application as soon as possible after the application window opens. With the biggest festivals, this can be as early as a year in advance. Even with smaller ones, it’s usually at least 6 months in advance. In general, the official closing date for applications is around the end of September; realistically, however, places are likely to be taken long before then.
If you are unable to submit your application early, you can still try putting it in late. Organisers may operate a waiting list of people who will stand in if someone else drops out. If not, ask them nicely to notify you if a place becomes available.
If you want to attend a smaller Christmas market that doesn’t have its own website, check the local authority’s website. This almost always has the necessary details. Smaller local markets are more likely to be organised by volunteer groups, which means that their response times can be slower.
No matter what type of Christmas market you want to attend, you usually have to pay some kind of fee. With commercial Christmas markets, this can be anything from £100 to £400. With non-commercial Christmas markets, fees can be lower but so can the level of supporting infrastructure. For example, you may need to bring your own mobile internet connection instead of connecting to supplied WiFi.
How to prepare your stall
So you’ve booked your stall, now what? While it’s incredibly exciting, there’s a lot to prepare before the Christmas market opens.
First of all, check what infrastructure is available at the Christmas market. In particular, find out if the organisers provide an internet connection for you to use. This determines what essentials you need to bring.
Secondly, consider the design of your stand. Decide whether or not you need to get any banners, table covers or other merchandise printed, and order them as early as you can. It’s also important to market your stall early to ensure people know you will be there. One of the best ways to do this is through social media.
As there will be many other stalls at the Christmas market, make yours stand out. Consider what products you will feature to draw people in and whether you could hold any demonstrations or examples of how your products work to draw attention to your stall. Bright lighting is also a great way to invite people over, as are festive smells.
Bringing Square’s payment solutions to the Christmas markets
As well as the creative considerations of setting up a Christmas market stand, you should also consider how to take payment. In an increasingly cashless world, stall holders will need to consider that many consumers will want to pay by credit or debit card or via the native e-wallets on their smartphones.
As such, using a payment terminal can be the difference between optimising sales and missing out. This handy portable POS device for secure payments via contactless or chip and pin, and receipt-printing. It connects seamlessly with the POS software on your smartphone and mobile device to allow for real-time reporting. That way, you can see how much you’re making as you’re making it. While Christmas markets are usually held in areas with strong wireless internet coverage, Square Terminal also has a useful offline mode to take payments even in areas with low-to-no connectivity.
Alternatively, Square Reader also connects via Bluetooth to any Android or iOS device and can be used to accept payments via contactless or chip and pin card insertion with the user’s choice of POS software. This is a great choice for stall holders who want to travel light and send digital receipts to customers via email. And with a battery that will last a whole day, there’s no need to worry about losing sales to charge time.
Finally, ensure you stay in control of your cash flow over the festive period with transfer speeds to suit you. With Square Instant Transfers, you can access your money from sales instantly for a small fee - or choose standard next business day transfers free of charge. No more waiting - get access to your money as soon as you need it.
Now that you’re clued up on Christmas fair ideas to sell, it’s time to spring into action booking your stand and preparing your festive gifts! Christmas markets are an incredibly exciting time and offer a huge opportunity for your small business, so make the most of them!
Contact our sales team to learn more about how Square could help your business.