Four things to know about greeting cards

From pop culture icons to pop-up designs, it’s in the cards
birthday card
When it comes to occasions, birthday is by far the No. 1 selling greeting card, according to Carlton Cards.

Show your cards

Seventy-seven per cent of unplanned greeting card purchases occur when shoppers see these items on display, according to Carlton Cards’ research. This makes the merchandising of greeting cards in high-traffic areas critical. 

Lisa Hutcheson, managing partner at J.C. Williams Group, recommends greeting cards be sold alongside flowers, gift packaging and gift cards. “This enhances the overall shopping experience, increasing the likelihood that customers will opt for traditional cards rather than digital alternatives.” And once established with regular shoppers, Hutcheson says “this approach can also function as a loss leader, like the way lotteries attract foot traffic.” 

Having expanded to five locations in the Greater Toronto Area, Summerhill Market has ensured every store includes space for greeting cards. “Stores where we’ve had them the longest perform best because customers know they can come to us for quality seasonal cards,” says Summerhill Market co-owner Brad McMullen

Occasion changes

Greeting cards fall into two categories: seasonal and occasion-based. At Carlton Cards, seasonal cards comprise 30% of its annual sales, led by Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. When it comes to occasions, “birthday is by far the No. 1 selling greeting card,” says the company’s president Paul Werynski.

There are also emerging occasions. “Younger consumers prefer to celebrate in their own way; for example, hosting gender reveal parties versus traditional baby showers,” explains Werynski. In response, Carlton Cards has created “more versatile and inclusive” options for celebrating baby. (Think more gender-neutral colours and designs without the term “baby shower.”)

Hard copy

Given the “decline in standalone greeting card stores,” Hutcheson of J.C. Williams Group says grocery retailers can benefit, even in the digital era, from consumers who “still place sentimental value on physical greeting cards.” 

This is reflected in Grand View Research showing the global greeting cards market – which is dominated by North America – is growing. Valuing the market at US$19.2 billion in 2022, it predicts a CAGR of 0.9% from 2023 to 2030.

Customers of all ages are fuelling the staying power of paper. A 2023 poll from Shutterfly, a California-based digital photo printing service, found two in three Americans prefer to receive physical cards as opposed to digital ones–including millennials (62%) and gen Zs (59%). And according to a 2022 shopper study in Canada by Carlton Cards, 75% of women and 65% of men are greeting card consumers.


Greeting card manufacturers are going beyond evergreen images of adorable puppies or birthday cake. “Capitalizing on pop culture trends like pickleball, fungi, llamas or capybaras, our cards are ever-changing,” notes Carlton’s Werynski. “Gift packaging is co-ordinated with these trendy cards to give the consumer perfect presentation for their gift.” 

Meanwhile, Paper E. Clips, a wholesale distributor of greeting cards that counts Summerhill, Stong’s Market and independent Foodland locations among its clients, offers birthday cards with cover illustrations of pop star Taylor Swift, Barbie and Ken, and Ted Lasso character Roy Kent.

As far as formats go, pop-up cards are popular. Paper E. Clips offers the brand Up With Paper, while Carlton Cards has the Magic Moments line and licencing deals with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney and more. 

“We continue to add new occasions, formats and even special licenses to our Magic Moments portfolio due to the popularity,” says Werynski.

This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s February 2024 issue.

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