[Nancy Sharon Collins] The market for greeting cards and paper products rides the tide of commercial economy like an empty Dixie Cup bobbing up and down on a wave in a large pond. Since the first Industrial Revolution, the compulsion to buy a little missive or novelty to give someone as a token of thanks — rather than making or doing it yourself — has fallen in and out of favor according to the general economy.
When we have extra change jangling in our pockets, it’s worth the time to shop for a manufactured note of sentiment in the Hallmark or American Greeting section of the grocery. However, when every penny counts towards buying groceries, shopping in the greeting card aisles is postponed for more pressing household necessities.
Traditionally, stationery — like lipstick and small impulse items — is one of the last commodities to disappear from shopping carts and one of the first to reappear as the eceonomy recovers. That clever little card you saw at the store or on Etsy that says “hello,” “happy birthday” or “I love you” may stay on the shelf longer during a major downturn in the market, but based on past experience, it will probably be the first thing you pick up when you feel more flush with cash.
Another dynamic is driving consumers from the category of store-bought cards and stationery items towards products that they can make themselves: technology. The more we keystroke our little hearts out, the more we crave wanting to make something. And more of us are willing to spend the time we used to spend shopping on crafts and homey projects.
Barbara Miller, spokesperson for the Greeting Card Association* has this to say, basing her opinion on anecdotal information gleaned from the national greeting card industry:
“Greeting cards continue to be the kind of small purchase that people will always make for important occasions and to ‘reach out and connect’ no matter what the state of the economy. With digital media and social networking, more people — and especially young people — seem to be turning to greeting cards because they’re ‘real’ things on paper. It makes them seem more valuable or ‘really special’ compared to an e-mail, text message, tweet or Facebook post.”
And, when asked about the status on greeting card sales recently, Kristi Ernsting, Public Relations rep for Hallmark Cards, had this to say:
“Like many retail businesses, we have not been immune to the effects of the economic downturn. But people still exchange an estimated six billion greeting cards a year — that’s 15 times the number of active Facebook users, and more than twice the number of boxes of cereal and three times the number of gallons of ice cream people consume a year.
“In our ongoing consumer research and in the stories people share with us, we continue to hear that greeting cards are important to their lives. The economy may change the nature of the cards they buy — some may be more likely to look for 99-cent cards, for instance — or how often they send cards, but it is a custom that remains valued and appreciated by many people. What we are focusing on at Hallmark is creating relevant and innovative products that people will find meaningful, regardless of the economy.”
Hang in there, professional paper products producers. You may have to tweak your retail mix a bit to suit the prevailing economy, but the pendulum will swing back in our direction, and shoppers will again flock toward ready-mades that we manufacture. We just have to hold the long view and be willing to sustain ourselves for another decade or two, while the buying atmosphere settles back in our favor.
* The Greeting Card Association (GCA) is the U.S.-based trade organization representing greeting card and stationery publishers, as well as suppliers to the industry. GCA’s members account for approximately 95 percent of the seven billion greeting cards sold in the U.S. every year, accounting for more than $7.5 billion in annual retail sales.
Nancy Sharon Collins is known for her exemplary bespoke hand-engraved social stationery. She is a stationer; graphic designer; typographer; print history scholar; partner in Collins, LLC; director of special projects for AIGA New Orleans; and an educator for Louisiana State University and UCLA. She is working on a book about American commercial engraving. See all of her Felt & Wire Shop products here.