Connection through cards

Interest in greeting cards is rising, and as essential businesses, grocery stores are emerging as a prime buying spot

Prevented from having in-person meetings in 2020, thanks to the pandemic, it seems more consumers reached out to loved ones through paper greeting cards.

“It’s one of the few physical ways to be with someone when you cannot be in person with them,” says Nora Weiser, executive director of the U.S.-based Greeting Card Association (GCA). “Right now, we’re lacking so much of that touch in tangible connections, but a card still allows that.” Weiser says the GCA doesn’t have the 2020 sales numbers in yet, but they’re certainly seeing signs of more people sending cards in the past year.

According to the GCA’s Facts and Figures, released in December 2020, “there is a material increase in how positively consumers feel about greeting cards, as evidenced by double-digit increases” in their answers to statements like “I wish I gave more cards” and “greeting cards are more meaningful than other forms of communications.” In addition, “65% of consumers agree that receiving cards and letters in the mail is extra special during this time of social distancing.”

Dana Scott, vice-president of national account sales for Hallmark Canada, agrees. “Our research found that cards are breaking through and people value them more now than even one year ago,” she says. “The pandemic has emphasized our need to emotionally connect with the people in our lives.”

Lockdowns have not only affected how consumers relate to cards, they’ve also changed where they purchase them. Online sales jumped last year, says GCA’s Weiser, and “there was a shift in people buying many more cards than usual at grocery stores, because they were essential and stayed open.”

“Our sales continue to be strong, since many of our retail partners are classified as essential businesses and have remained open during the lockdown,” confirms Rod Sturtridge, president of Carlton Cards. “Grocery stores represent close to 20% of industry dollars and approximately 10% of units . This percentage has increased significantly over the past year as consumers have shopped greeting cards while in grocery for more essential purchases.”

Birthday cards remain the overall top-selling everyday card category, followed by sympathy cards, while leading holidays for card-giving are Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. The GCA’s Weiser says the care and concern category, which includes get well soon and thinking of you cards, “was selling more this year than ever,” as were cards related to events of 2020. “We actually added a category to our annual competition this year called Trends and Events. So there might be COVID-related cards or there might be political cards that are very linked to events of the year.”

Women buy 80% of all cards sold, according to the GCA, and most purchasers are aged 35 to 60. “Millennials are still driving cards,” adds Weiser, pointing to data showing that while boomers buy the most greeting card units, millennials have spent more on cards in the past five years. “They’re particularly fond of the more elaborate and unique, and really appreciate the crafted aspects of cards,” says Weiser, adding some will pay $10 or more for a creative card that replaces a present.

In terms of messaging, Weiser says “millennials definitely find it appealing to have an edge to the humour, it’s a little bit irreverent. Of course, the care and concern and condolence-type cards are never going to have too much edge to them. And I think people still turn to greeting cards to say the things that they themselves may not be able to put into words.”

Because cards are largely impulse purchases at grocery, card displays should be near the checkout, although Weiser says “some grocers are moving cards to an endcap so there’s more visibility as people pass by.” As well as keeping card aisles tidy and organized, Carlton’s Sturtridge says “strategic placement of outposts in related departments like seasonal or confectionery sections, and close positioning to the cash area, helps increase impulse sales and reminds consumers to add a greeting card to their basket during their shopping journey.”

Grocers can also reach out to card companies for help with merchandising. “Buying behaviours have changed due to the need for social distancing, so we are working to make our cards more accessible for people in-store and online,” says Hallmark’s Scott. “You’ll see seasonal card displays up earlier in some of our retail locations and extended promotions to allow people to shop early. In some of our retail locations, you’ll also see displays spread out throughout the store so shoppers will have additional places—beyond the usual greeting card aisle—to shop for cards.”

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer‘s February 2021 issue.

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