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Hallmark and the Power of Permanence

[RETHINK Retail] — In a world of Facebook reactions, Twitter retweets, Periscope hearts and Instagram likes, social media has turned into one great big “thank you” card. Every social media status can become the cause (or the victim) to your social media followers’ opinions. And when birthdays, anniversaries and holidays come around, out come the Bitmojis and Ebrojis to let your social circle know you were thinking about them.

But between social media status updates and e-cards, how have brick-and-mortar greeting card stores managed to last? It turns out that retailers can thank millennials for keeping the greeting card trend afloat.


From private to public

The average person simply does not have 500 friends. But on Facebook — where Statista reports 40 percent of users have zero to 200 friends and 20.8 percent have more than 500 — far more eyes can follow along with an absolute stranger’s everyday accomplishments.

Ironically, well-known greeting card brand Hallmark boosted its popularity after acknowledging that their customers wanted more privacy. When 18-year-old Joyce Clyde Hall and his brother Rollie Hall joined together to create Hall Brothers, they originally sold picture postcards. After a fire in 1915, the two brothers reevaluated their company with the public’s feedback in mind. People wanted more privacy in communication, so the Hall brothers started selling high-quality valentines and Christmas cards that would be sent in secure envelopes.

A century later, people want their privacy back.

“Teenagers have much smaller offline social networks than adults,” said Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford, in a Business Insider post. “And forcing them to enlarge their network with large numbers of anonymous ‘friends-of-friends’ may place significant strain on their ability to manage their networks.”

The stress and anxiety associated with an increased digital presence simply isn’t worth it to some younger consumers. They want to focus on their in-person friends instead of juggling perfect strangers who they’ve mutually allowed into their homes via social media.

And, according to the Greeting Card Association’s vice president, George White, millennials are especially enthusiastic about buying greeting cards related to birthdays, anniversaries and for job-related congratulatory purposes.

While the United States Postal Service is still dealing with a revenue decline in first-class and marketing mail, the greeting card industry has at least held steady over the past year. This may be thanks in large part to the greeting card industry embracing digital technology, photography and creative engineering.


Making it personal

For the 13th year in a row, gift cards are the most popular item on holiday shoppers list, according to the National Retail Federation. And while it’s not clear whether these gift cards are all being placed into money greeting cards, this certainly adds a little more flair than just sticking a gift card in a paper bag or taping it to a random gift box. And the presentation of that card has become a team effort instead of sorting for just the “right” message in pre-printed cards.

Millennials are not buying big boxes of greeting cards the way prior generations did. Instead they are using funds to pay for creative alternatives — like Lovepop’s Pop Up cards — and personalized cards available from mobile apps and online retailers. Felt, Postable, Shutterfly, VistaPrint and many other photo apps allow users to upload their own pictures via phone and create a personal message. Some photo greeting card apps will even allow users to write messages in their own handwriting instead of choosing from a few default choices.

Just add a mailing address and shipment charges, or an email address, and off the card goes.

Photo departments have dissipated altogether in major retailers such as Walmart and Target. Specialized photo staff have also dwindled at retailers such as Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy. In turn, so did the greeting card and photo kiosks. But the digital market is helping customers keep photo greeting card personalization going where there are no immediate photo developing stations or specialized greeting card stores. (Approximately 1,650 of 2,000 Hallmark retail stores are privately owned.)

With potential free shipping and online promo codes, greeting card enthusiasts are looking out for those special discount deals. On the other hand, handmade cards are a tougher sale, primarily due to pricing. However, musical greeting cards, cards with LED lights or a full-color photo collage may not hurt one’s wallet so much when bought individually instead of in bulk.


The future of greeting card retail 

The presentation of greeting cards and where they’re sold will continue to evolve. But in 2019, it’s the card consumers who are going through the real changes. Millennials think greeting cards are more meaningful now than 10 years ago, and “just because” cards are even gaining in popularity. As long as consumers keep focusing on their real-life relationships, the greeting card industry will be there along the way.