Retailers regularly tell RN they know vaping is a big opportunity, but they find it confusing. Olivia Gagan and Toby Hill speak to retailers and suppliers to demystify e-cigarettes and next-generation products

E-cigarettes and vaping products have burst onto the market in recent years as an exciting new source of revenue for retailers, bolstering shrinking tobacco gantries and offering an opportunity to build a loyal new customer base. 

As their use has spread – supplier JTI estimates the vaping market has grown 9.3% over the past two years – so too have the flavours, products and options for retailers to stock. It’s a fast-moving, sprawling category that can sometimes feel confusing. 

Like alcohol, it is a category that is particularly sensitive to regulatory change, requiring retailers to remain vigilant of legal requirements. In the past year alone, maximum refill container sizes shrank to 10ml and vaping tanks to a tiny 2ml. Maximum nicotine strengths were curbed, too. 

However, there are encouraging signs on the horizon. Earlier this month, an MP committee report urged for a loosening of regulations. E-cigarettes should be allowed to be used on public transport, it said, and it claimed vaping has been overlooked by the NHS as a tool to help people quit tobacco. It also called for a rethink on refill strengths and tank sizes and said the industry should have more freedom to advertise products. 

We asked two suppliers to give us their top tips on selling e-cigs, and got a leading e-cig retailer to answer your questions on the category.

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MPs urged for a loosening 
of regulations on e-cigs 
earlier this month

 

We sell up to 1,200 units of the liquid and kits every month

Top tips

 

Sophie Hogg

Head of next-generation products
Blu

Get involved: Begin with a small range and work with your rep to understand the broader category – and what products will work best for existing vapers, as well as those who may be looking to transition to the category. 

Engage with customers: Speak to reps to understand the category so that you can offer shoppers
advice. It will make them more likely to choose to shop in independent stores, rather than online or vape shops.

Don’t treat it as a sideline: The most common mistake retailers make is limiting their offering to, say, a small piece of PoS on the counter. This might result in the occasional purchase, but it won’t signal that your store is a vaping destination. 

Invest in the category: Point out the health benefits to adult smokers, who may be considering quitting, or are actively trying to quit, and focus on energising your e-vapour range. With the right preparation, you’ll reap the results.

Nick Geens

Head of reduced-risk products 
JTI

Know what’s popular: Capsule and refillable products are currently the fastest-growing devices, and are now used by most UK vapers.

Get the right flavours: The three most popular vaping flavours are fruit (30%), followed by menthol (22%) and then tobacco (20%).

Be consistent: Of the 76% of adult vapers that use refillable devices, 72% of these use their
device daily. Therefore, retailers can establish themselves as a destination store by stocking a consistent range for vapers and benefit from repeat custom and footfall.

Make them visible: As consumer demand for vaping grows, retailers should display their products prominently, keeping a clear and tidy display to ensure customers are aware of the choice and range available.

Retailer views

Master retailer

Harry Patel
Kwiksave, Warlingham

E-cigarettes and vaping play a key role in my store. We sell up to 1,200 units of the liquid and kits every month. The margins are excellent, especially compared to cigarettes. We can buy the liquids for £3, and sell them for between £4.50 and £4.99, which gives us margins of 30% to 40%.

I think the key way to avoid many of the problems these retailers have mentioned is to build a relationship with a particular supplier. I work very closely with Jenson, a British company. That stops customers getting confused by all the different brands and products. It also helps with choosing what range to build up – what balance of traditional and novelty flavours to stock. We have a sale-or-return arrangement with Jenson: whatever we don’t sell, they take back. So, we can try out flavours, monitor what sells and get rid of what doesn’t. I also work with Blu, but I don’t want a clash of flavours, so in that case I just ask customers what they want and make sure I have it in stock for them.

Another advantage of working closely with a single supplier is that they can introduce you to the category. They can explain how it all works, so you can talk to customers about the products. When someone comes in saying they’re interested in a product, I’ll ask them why they want it and how much they think they’ll smoke. Then I can advise them on whether it’s worth investing £30 in a quality device, or if they should look for something more disposable. Similarly, if people come in with problems or faulty products, I can just give them a new item and then contact my supplier about it to get a refund. 

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Harry Patel’s shop makes 30-40% margins on e-cigs

 

In terms of the illicit trade and cut-price products, I can’t stop people selling them, I can just keep my own house tidy. There is someone down the road selling cheap products – three liquids for £10, that kind of thing. When customers tell me about that I explain that they could buy there, but it carries a risk – there are a lot of fake liquids around, and that could lead to coughing, a sore throat and infections. I assure them that I just stick to quality products they can trust.