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It’s in the cards

With increasing millennial appeal and high-margin potential, greeting cards are still big business. Here’s how to make the most of the category

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As mark twain might have said, the rumours of greeting cards’ death have been greatly exaggerated. According to the U.S. Greeting Card Association (GCA), more than 6.5 billion greeting cards are purchased annually—roughly 80% of those by women—representing between US$7 and $8 billion in retail sales. While social media has resulted in people recognizing occasions like birthdays via Facebook and other social media sites more often than before, GCA says “they aren’t necessarily sending fewer cards as a result.”

And, perhaps surprisingly, it’s younger consumers who are driving a lot of today’s card sales. While all demographics purchase greeting cards, Dana Scott, director of national account sales for Hallmark Canada, notes that “millennials represent nearly 20% of the dollars spent on greeting cards, and are growing their spending faster than any other generational segment. Millennials tell us that they love paper and tactile experiences because they are rarer and more special.” Scott says the market for cards will continue to grow, “especially as millennials are moving into new life stages like marriage and parenthood, which have always been drivers of card usage.”

“Gen Y loves the tradition and sentiment of hand-selecting the perfect card,” agrees Paul Werynski, director of sales and marketing at Carlton Cards. “However, they also demand product that speaks using their communication styles and their tone of voice.” Carlton has recently launched its Paper Rebel brand, for instance, including holiday cards reading “Merry whatever you celebrate,” and “This year, quit doing shit you hate.” Werynski says the line is “not your typical greeting card brand. These cards are raw and unapologetic. They range in tone from snarky and edgy to playful, witty and sweet.”

What’s more, younger buyers are typically willing to pay higher prices for creative, craft-inspired greeting cards that often take the place of a gift. For example, Hallmark’s new Signature Paper Wonder line showcases “paper craft, diversity in artists, trend-forward designs and alignment with the wellness trend,” says Scott. “When opened, these cards reveal a show-stopping, laser-cut design that can be viewed from any angle. The cards lay flat, making them displayable and the perfect keepsake.” Hallmark’s premium products can cost as much as $14.99 per card.

As a small-format grocery chain, Toronto’s Rabba Fine Foods works with local and independent card makers to offer its customers unique options as well as an environmentally friendly focus. “All kinds of people come in to purchase greeting cards, so we make sure to have a good variety of contemporary and traditional options to match the personality, kindness and love of the gift-giver,” explains Rima Rabba, the company’s marketing communications manager. “We see greeting cards as a service item at Rabba Fine Foods … As a neighbourhood supermarket, it’s important to offer convenient items for customers who are on the go. If our customers are looking for a quick gift, they know they can pick up gift cards, fresh flowers and a greeting card.”

Jean-Paul Michael, co-founder and publisher of Toronto-based Northern Cards, notes that greeting cards can also be a high-margin product for grocers, even with just one display. The company partners with many independent grocers and smaller chains, which often have much less floor space available for greeting cards. And by selling direct to stores Michael says they can offer “an unprecedentedly high margin.”

From a merchandising perspective, visibility in different departments can lead to higher card sales. “A prominently placed, product-rich greeting card display can trigger an impulse purchase or remind the shopper of an upcoming birthday, wedding or baby shower,” says Scott. “We look for opportunities to intercept her in key spaces within the store, outside of the card department.”

Standalone displays in areas that allow for browsing, as well as cross-merchandising in areas such as the floral department or at checkouts during seasonal celebrations, can also boost card sales significantly. “The greeting card category can play a key role in driving profitable basket-building sales,” says Werynski. “Grocers who maintain visible card departments along with strategic outposts and innovative merchandising solutions are seeing that translate into successful sales.”

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’February 2020 issue.

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