Card makers use innovative cards to sound off holidays

Technology, such as the Internet, might seem poised to put a damper on traditional greeting card sales, but it seems that the Web is evolving into a boon to drug chains and others who sell the real thing.

Technology hasn’t just increased the ease with which people connect and communicate, it also has encouraged a greater incidence of communication, according to a study conducted by Synovate, the market research arm of Aegis Group, and commissioned by American Greetings. As a result, 84 percent of consumers said they communicate with their closest friends at least once a week, and 27 percent said they reach out to their closest friends daily.

The study indicated that consumers who have embraced Web-based e-cards turn to traditional paper greeting cards as an enhanced communications vehicle when they want to underline the importance of their relationships among close friends and family.

The trend crosses generational lines and is evident even among Generations X and Y, who are usually stereotyped as addicted to virtual communications.

Frank Cirillo, an American Greetings spokesman, explained that even Generation X and Y want to do more than e-mail and text message when it comes to important occasions and communications. They want to express themselves using something tangible.

“They’re really complementary, the e-card and paper card,” Cirillo said, “particularly for people who like to connect and connect often. They look at the paper card as an extension of the e-card for special events or to communicate a particular sentiment.”

Technology does more than just encourage card giving, though. It can enhance the card exchange in a way that makes it more fun for both the giver and the recipient. Sound seems to have a particular appeal.

“We have a bigger focus on cards with sound,” said Walgreens spokeswoman Vivika Vergara. “These have been very popular.”

Bigger cards with enhanced speakers are taking sound cards to a new level of popularity with Walgreens shoppers, Vergara said. E-cards may be quick and cute, but technology enhanced paper cards provide personalization and represent an effort to create a substantive keepsake for the recipient. “E-cards are for more casual occasions,” she said. “The new generation paper cards are more interactive. You can record a little message and have a song play. Mothers Day cards with sound and a message are becoming very popular.”

New technologies that offer music, light, motion and recordable capability are also popular among CVS customers because they intensify the emotional impact of greeting cards. “And this has brought new excitement and new shoppers to the category,” said Bruce McKee, category manager, CVS/pharmacy. “Greeting cards are also including more conversational copy that better reflects how people express themselves, making cards even more meaningful and personal.”

McKee said CVS hasn’t noticed any negative impact that can be attributed to e-cards. In fact, e-cards may be driving some to seek out traditional greeting cards with high-tech features, which can be particularly helpful in establishing that potentially lucrative segment.

CVS is merchandising to ensure its customers know they have the high-tech option. “Cards with music, light, motion and recordable features require appropriate signing so shoppers see them and understand their features and benefits,” McKee said. “To highlight this for shoppers, CVS/pharmacy uses signage to call out new innovation and invite customers to test the cards out [and] endcaps and offshelf fixtures to merchandise sound/innovation cards.”

Eric Harkreader, a Rite Aid spokesman, said elements that make cards more exciting, including technology, are important to driving results in greeting cards. In fact, Rite Aid mixes high-tech cards into the various card categories, while also doing dedicated presentations to meet consumer shopping preferences. Harkreader added, though, that conforming to broader gift-giving trends is important, too. “We’re really trying to tie gift cards into greeting cards both in physical proximity as well as carrying the many cards specially designed to incorporate gift cards,” he said.

For this holiday season, Hallmark has initiated a big push on high-tech cards and related products to help retailers win consideration from shoppers.

An attractive pairing of technology and occasion can be a strong purchasing incentive and should be going forward. Hallmark spokeswoman Sarah Kolell said, “Obviously, technology is integral to the world we live in, and in our consumer insight, we’re hearing that personalizing things adds emotional value.”

Hallmark holiday introductions include 42 recordable cards with music, with retail price points starting at $5.99, complemented by motion-activated gift bags that use sound to alert the whole house when family and friends try to peek at what’s inside, as well as more than 300 new Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments.

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