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Greeting Cards
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01/26/2022

Play your cards right: Greeting card category still relevant in the face of the pandemic and digital communications

The pandemic has been a big sales driver for certain segments of greeting cards — from birthday cards and notes of encouragement to care and concern — as consumers sought to stay emotionally connected via cards bought at grocery stores and retail pharmacies.

Sometimes a holidayZoom call or an emoji-filled text is not enough. For birthdays, other special occasions or for conveying encouragement, only a card will suffice. Although the COVID-19 crisis inspired many people to shift to digital communications, the pandemic also made people seek greeting cards when they stayed home, and continue to send cards after stay-at-home orders were lifted.

According to the U.S. Postal Service Household Diary Study, the volume of personal correspondence, or household-to-household mail, has been decreasing for years. The pandemic didn’t help. From fiscal year 2019 to 2020, mailings of invitations and announcements declined during the pandemic as events were canceled. Other communications such as letters also declined as people reached out to each other through emails and texts.

“Unlike a lot of products, consumers spend time shopping and browsing for that perfect card to send. A vast majority of consumers want to physically shop for greeting cards. It is a tactile purchase that is based on emotion; a product that consumers can touch and feel to sense the intrinsic value and the message that it conveys.” — Dawn Garvey, chief financial officer, Designer Greetings

On the bright side, one segment that saw an increase was non holiday greeting cards, from 797 million pieces in 2019 to 925 million pieces in 2020. Now companies are trying to continue that momentum.

Across the Miles
According to the Greeting Card Association, birthday cards are the best-selling card type, accounting for more than half of all cards sold. About two-thirds of birthday cards are mailed. As the pandemic unfolded, people were also sending notes of encouragement, Get Well and other greeting cards. 

“More cards in the care and concern category sold during the pandemic, as people sought to connect and send love to friends and family they weren’t able to see in person,” said Nora Weiser, executive director of the Greeting Card Association, which moved its offices from Washington, D.C., to the Denver area in 2020.

 [Read more: Q&A: Designer Greetings emphasizes value, quality cards]

Another pandemic-related trend, Weiser pointed out, was that when smaller, independent retailers closed during the lockdowns, consumers purchased cards at grocery stores and drug stores, since those remained open as essential. “As with many purchases, they also turned to buying cards online,” she said. “Some publishers pivoted quickly and set up B-to-C options online to sell directly to consumers."

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Designer Greetings' JG Studio line
Designer Greetings' JG Studio line

Manufacturers agreed that the pandemic was a big sales driver for certain segments of greeting cards. 

“In a year that has been marked by distance, the tried-and-true Everyday greeting card has been as popular as ever for Designer Greetings,” said Dawn Garvey, chief financial officer at Edison, N.J.-based Designer Greetings. “When gatherings such as birthday parties and weddings were still frowned upon, the sending of a greeting card allowed for people to stay emotionally connected and celebrate together.” 

Although e-commerce exploded during the pandemic, shopping for a greeting card is different from buying everyday essentials. “Unlike a lot of products, consumers spend time shopping and browsing for that perfect card to send,” Garvey said. “A vast majority of consumers want to physically shop for greeting cards. It is a tactile purchase that is based on emotion; a product that consumers can touch and feel to sense the intrinsic value and the message that it conveys.”

Also according to the GCA, 65% of consumers agreed that receiving cards and letters in the mail lifts their spirits, and 61% agreed that receiving cards and letters in the mail is extra special during this time of social distancing. Also, 60% said that receiving cards and letters in the mail “means more to me” than an email. 

Amy McAnarney, vice president and general manager of key accounts and business development at Kansas City, Mo.-based Hallmark, said the pandemic has emphasized people’s need to emotionally connect. “Cards are a simple way for people to reach out to make a meaningful impact by sharing words of kindness, encouragement and gratitude,” she said. “At a time when physical connections are limited, cards can be displayed to serve as a constant reminder of the sender’s kindness and thoughtfulness.” 

In fact, 8 out of 10 people keep the cards they receive. “Right now those physical reminders are more important than ever,” McAnarney said. “We continue to hear from people just how impactful cards are in showing people how much they matter, and we’ve seen positive attitudes toward cards increase even more during the pandemic.”

“More cards in the care and concern category sold during the pandemic, as people sought to connect and send love to friends and family they weren’t able to see in person.” — Nora Weiser, executive director, Greeting Card Association

A 2021 Hallmark Insights & Analytics survey found that greeting cards, compared to other forms of communication, have the highest growth potential post-pandemic. The majority of the 10,000 survey participants believed the impact of cards is worth the time and effort, and more than half of the consumers believe cards are more meaningful than other forms of communication. “Finding ways to show people you care every day is a trend we are continuing to see,” McAnarney said. 

Keeping in Touch 
That attitude is true for consumers of all ages. The GCA also reported that millennials spend more dollars on greeting cards in the United States on an annual basis than baby boomers, averaging $6 per card, although baby boomers still purchase more units. Millennials have been steadily increasing their purchases of cards for years, as they enter the life phase of purchasing a home, getting married and having children.

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Hallmark Video Greeting Cards
Hallmark Video Greeting Cards enable users to add a personalized video to a card.

Technology appeals to this age group, and Hallmark recently launched its Video Greeting Cards, which enable the user to add a personalized video to a card. The customer scans the QR code in the physical card bought in a store, then goes online to add videos or photos. They can invite others to join in by emailing or texting a custom URL. Once everyone submits their videos, Hallmark stitches it all together into one video. The recipient scans the QR code in the card to see the video message.

As for in-store purchases, McAnarney said innovating the shopping experience is key. “We know consumers want and expect a seamless retail experience — whenever they shop and wherever they shop,” she said. “A primary focus for Hallmark is to innovate the shopping experience and partner with our retailers to make it easier for consumers to shop for their greeting cards.” (In December, McAnarney was named president of the Greeting Card Association.)

To help drive traffic in stores, Designer Greetings offers programs such as the Card$mart Store-In-A-Store program, which sells cards at 50% off every day. Garvey said the program is a proven traffic driver and outvalues the regular-priced cards in national drug chains. Designer Greetings also provides a Preferred Giftware Vendor Program, which gives the retailer access to top gift vendors across multiple categories. 

Garvey said there is still greater demand now for cards that provide encourage-ment or send heartfelt appreciation while also reflecting the diversity of consumers. “Greeting cards are a valuable part of staying in touch with our loved ones, no mask required,” she said. “There is an undeniable emotional reaction that we all experience when we receive a physical greeting card, no matter the occasion or sentiment."

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