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Card makers use innovative cards to sound off holidays

BY Mike Duff

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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Camera scopes out perimeters of injuries

BY Jenna Duncan

ATLANTA IP2Biz announced Friday that it is developing a prototype, non-touch camera that examines wounds to compute their size at a testing facility at the Shepherd Center in Georgia.

The camera fits in the administrator’s hand and includes programming that both charts and records the area of a wound. It does not require contact with the affected area. In addition to aiding treatment, this device is being developed as a method to help provide proof of injury for insurance and damages claims.

Associate professor of applied physiology and industrial design at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Stephen Sprigle, led the development of the camera. “We designed the device to address a key and growing need in wound management,” Sprigle said in a statement. “Our goal was to provide a low-cost, easy-to-use device that used the latest technology to provide measurements of the area of the wound.”

The Shepherd Center in Atlanta is a not-for-profit hospital that provides specialized care and rehabilitation.

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BJ’s Wholesale reports results for November

BY Jenna Duncan

NATICK, Mass. BJ’s Wholesale Club reported Friday an increase in sales for November with at $783.2 million, up 5.2 percent from $744.4 million reported from November 2007. Same-store sales at BJ’s Club stores were up about 4 percent for November, including a drop in sales of gasoline of about 2 percent.

BJ’s said that its same-store merchandise club sales were up by 6.2 percent, versus guidance of 2 percent to 3 percent. The wholesale club chain said the rise was due to increases in sales of consumables and food, particularly in the fourth week, reflecting a calendar shift that included Thanksgiving.

In addition BJ’s said sales for November were up in the metropolitan New York market, but saw the lowest increase in the Southeast.

For same-store club sales, food sales reportedly were up by about 14 percent and general merchandise sales were down by about 4 percent, according to the company.

BJ’s said that its departments with the strongest sales for November included bakery, computer products, dairy, deli, frozen foods, health and beauty, meat, pet foods, prepared foods, and snacks, as well as others. The company said that areas with weaker sales included apparel, cigarettes, electronic items, TVs, toys and other areas.

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