Let there be lightsabers: the strange world of branded Star Wars merch

You may have noticed that a new Star Wars film premiered in New Zealand this morning. And you may also have noticed that brands are trying hard to get their piece of the Star Wars Effect, with an unprecedented amount of merchandising and marketing activity around the film.  

The author of Star Wars FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Trilogy That Changed the Movies, Mark Clark, says the merchandising effort this time round is huge compared to previous movies.

“In the ’70s, no one would’ve considered nondairy creamer with a Star Wars logo, or makeup, and not even Halloween makeup. It wouldn’t have crossed your mind to brand those items with Star Wars. It’s staggering,” he told Tampa Bay Times.

As Clark points out, the success of Star Wars merchandise sales may be helped along somewhat by the fact that any and every type of brand is cashing in. In the US, a small ice cream company from Brooklyn potentially hit the jackpot with a licensing deal. There are also Star Wars-branded oranges, apples and grapes, Darth Vader showerheads, condoms, themed razor stands and so much more. It would be comical if it wasn’t so conspicuously commercial (we won’t get into the 500 percent increase in Star Wars porn here). 

And the numerous tie-ins seem to be working. Data from cloud-based point-of-sale company Vend has found that New Zealand retailers who are selling Star Wars-related products and memorabilia have seen a 430 percent increase in December sales so far, compared to 2014.

To date, the biggest day for Star Wars purchases has been 12 December.

There has also been a 180 percent increase in retail spending at stores selling Star Wars products compared to last month, while there is 350 percent more Star Wars stock being held by stores to accommodate demand.

Vend CEO Vaughan Rowsell says you “don’t have to be the brightest lightsaber in the galaxy” to know that Star Wars products are popular.

“Last year New Zealand saw record levels of Christmas spending across the country, and we’re coming off a pretty strong 2015 so it’s likely we’ll see another great season for retailers – and the Star Wars Effect is certainly helping,” Rowsell says.

Globally, Forbes reports that Star War merchandise revenue will far surpass box office revenue.

The film is on track to reach a domestic gross of US$625 million at the box office in the US, but an analyst believes its merchandise revenue will hit US$5 billion.

Last year’s top retail merchandise earner was the movie Frozen, grossing US$531 million in product sales.

Disney bought the Star Wars franchise in 2012 from creator George Lucas for $US4 billion.

It has a majority stake in the sales and will garner 20 percent of the merchandise sales. According to the analyst’s prediction, this amounts to US$500 million.

In major overseas department stores like Walmart and Target, stores have held “Force Friday” midnight opening events and have entire aisles devoted to Star Wars-related goods.

Star Wars products aside, in New Zealand, Vend says the biggest sales uplift was in the furniture and homewares category – 111 percent higher than the November average.

This was followed by sales at jewellery stores (110 percent) and toys and game stores (90 percent).

Electronics sales have increased by 64 percent, while clothing sales have increased by 53 percent.

Vend data has also found that the most popular day for last-minute gifts isn’t actually Christmas Eve, but the day before it.

In 2014, sales on 23 December were 40 percent higher than the rest of the month and retail spending increased by 61 percent. Sales on Christmas Eve declined by 26 percent.

Rowsell says the data shows the solution for shoppers is to either get in early, or get in very late on the 24th.

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