What a (greeting) card

New and innovative products from greeting cards manufacturers are keeping the category alive and ticking.

Nobody wishes their spouse a happy anniversary on Facebook or sends their mother an e-card on her birthday. There are still occasions in which people expect a printed, mailed greeting card. That is why the greeting card category is still a $7 billion industry.

According to the White Plains, N.Y.-based Greeting Card Association (GCA) seven out of 10 card buyers consider greeting cards “absolutely” or “almost” essential to them. Eight out of 10 of these buyers expect their purchases to remain the same in the near future. Among the other card buyers, twice as many say they will increase their purchasing as say they will decrease their purchasing in the coming year.

“The truth is that e-cards are rarely used in place of a traditional card, and have actually helped to better define their value,” says Colin Littler, marketing director for Design Design, based in Grand Rapids, Mich. “The surge in digital communication has increased the perceived value of traditional greeting cards, especially when compared to a text message, tweet or Facebook post. The majority of consumers still prefer a traditional handwritten card or letter to make someone feel truly special.”

Consumers have not only not stopped buying greeting cards; some are more interested than ever in buying paper cards. “We continue to see that it is the greeting card enthusiasts or the heavy card buyers who drive card sales,” says Tom Kilcourse, vice president of U.S. sales for Cleveland-based American Greetings. “This customer is more than willing to spend the money on greeting cards as long as she perceives the cards as an excellent value for those she wants to connect with.”

The search for value could be good news for grocery retailers. While people have not stopped buying greeting cards, they are looking at different places to buy them now.

“Because of changing consumer buying patterns, grocery has a better opportunity to grab some sales of profitable greeting cards from retailers in other channels of distribution whose sales may be lagging,” says Suzanne Haines, vice president of marketing for Edison, N.J.-based Designer Greetings.

Like other nonfoods categories, greeting cards may not be getting the attention they deserve from supermarkets. According to Colorado Springs, Colo.-based GMDC, the entirety of general merchandise may contribute more than two times its fair share of net margin to sales, when compared with other grocery product categories. The greeting card category contributes even more—and there may be opportunity to boost sales of greeting cards.

“While some grocery retailers may be experiencing less than stellar sales, the greeting card category can offer a bright spot, as cards remain fairly immune to most economic downturns,” says Littler. “In difficult times, greeting cards have proven to emerge as a cost-effective alternative to an expensive gift, or as an attractive vehicle to offer an emotional boost.”

Haines agrees that greeting cards can benefit from the fact that consumers are still value conscious. “The cost-cutting shopping patterns that evolved during the recession are persisting and are expected to continue in the immediate future,” says Haines. “There is an intensified interest in value.”

The category is even more valuable now that there are fewer outlets. There are fewer independent card shops now than a decade ago, plus the bookstore chain Borders has shuttered, says Marc Trobman, vice president of business development for Detroit-based Avanti Press. “There is a tremendous amount of attrition in the category,” he says.

Mass channel stores have responded by boosting their greeting card sections, with some Target and Walmart stores featuring 200 feet of greeting cards in the front and center of the stores. Drugstore chains have also expanded their greeting card departments.

Of course people, especially Gen Y, send e-cards online, and they buy paper cards online too, according to CGA. Online can also be part of the greeting card creating experience. Last year Hallmark, based in Kansas City, Mo., launched the All About Pets contest, which invited people to go online to create a fun card to say happy birthday, congratulations or thank you to a fellow pet lover. The winning designers received $250, and their cards are available on Hallmark’s website. Some printed cards from the contest will be sold in Kroger stores beginning in June.

Hallmark also offers Hallmark Go Cards, a free app for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. The card giver can select, personalize and send a paper greeting card from an iPhone anytime. For $3.49 a paper card will be delivered to the recipient.

These and other online efforts often complement, not replace, printed cards. “E-cards have not been the doom and gloom that everybody has predicted,” says Trobman.

What women want
Shoppers need more than an attractive and conveniently located greeting card section to encourage them to buy more cards. If there is a constant stream of new products consumers will visit the aisle more often says Kilcourse.

“The grocery channel will see a continuous flow of innovative cards whereby the consumer says ‘Gee, I didn’t know a card could do that,’” says Kilcourse. “Last year, we introduced our 100th greeting card innovation as part of our continued effort to surprise and delight consumers with something new every single time they visit the greeting card aisle.”

Manufacturers have developed lines that reflect some of the trends that appeal to women, who, according to GCA, purchase 80% of all greeting cards. Women also spend more time than men choosing a card, and are more likely to buy several cards at once.

So what do women want? They want humor. Kilcourse says funny cards account for 30% of all greeting card purchases, so American Greetings has added more funny cards to its offerings. The company also has added designs to its justWink brand, which is popular among Gen Y shoppers, and is also targeting other generations with content partners such as Mary Engelbreit and One Direction.

According to the GCA, birthday is still by far the most popular card-giving occasion. Avanti’s newest collection continues the humor theme in both the Avanti photographic and A*Press illustrated line. The company has added to its Family Birthday, Belated Birthday and Birthday from All series. Among the new characters are a safe-cracking Boston Terrier and a highway patrol toddler.

Unconventional, irreverent, trendy alternative cards are all the rage now, says Haines. Designer Greetings has added to its lines, such as Exposé, which combines photographs and verse in funny or heartwarming ways; the sassy woman-to-woman line, Chitchat; and Funny Side Up, the newest humor line. “Traditional designs are time-honored, but alternative cards add spice,” says Haines.

Design Design’s latest card creations include detachable mustaches and magnets to decorate someone’s face or their surroundings, light up LED cards with a Las Vegas twist, and cards that include gem-embellished wine glass charm stickers. Littler says retailers can also expect to see more cards that appeal to Millennials, such as cards that play on texting, tweeting and QR codes.

Hallmark offers three-dimensional cards, including cards with removable pieces and embellishments. For the 2012 holiday season, Hallmark Signature Collection holiday cards featured removable jewelry, tinsel, ornaments, an acrylic Christmas tree, a moveable nutcracker, decorative garland, satin and sheer ribbon and even reindeer antlers for a pet.

The goal, according to Hallmark officials, was to make the cards’ life much longer.
American Greetings will continue the rollout of its Bloom signage package. “It creates a warm, inviting greeting card department to attract shoppers and make it easy for them to find the perfect cards,” says Kilcourse. “We will continue to introduce new programs throughout the year for our seasonal endcaps, as well as for our seasonal feature displays.”


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