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Despite operating as the largest sector of the gifts and occasions industry, the number of global greetings cards brands recognised around the world is comparatively small – largely as a result of marketplace retailers partnering with campaigns which herald independent crafters and local sellers rather than focussing on the global industry players.
This movement towards shopping small, which has made waves over the years across a number of industries, has sparked a new generation of brands to create their own selling space in various marketplaces and retail sectors – with greetings cards being found everywhere from corner shops through to designer stores in order to attract and get card designs in front of a captive audience. Studies and surveys conducted by craft magazines have found that greetings card making is the number one form of craft which the global population is likely to try their hand at some point in their life – with some creating cards for close families and friends only, while others channel their creativity into a business idea for the already well-saturated greetings card market.
To look at it simply, if a retailer has a place in the gifting industry, they are likely to stock some form of greetings card to deliver a seamless experience to the buyer – with one in every six retail stores having a selection of cards on sales as part of their total stock line or collection. What this means for the industry is that the opportunity for audience engagement and marketing is huge and wide-ranging – and that more often than not, buyers will be able to find various cards which can be brought in line with the deals and vouchers that each retailer is offering.
Greetings cards were first observed historically during the Egyptian era, where individuals would exchange papyrus scrolls with various greetings written on them. It wasn’t until the 1400’s that Europeans started purchasing and sending greetings cards to celebrate various occasions such as Valentine’s Day, and even then cards could only be hand delivered and passed on to friends and family; with the postage stamp allowing for wider delivery not being invented until 1840.
What the history of the greetings card industry shows is that the idea of sending written communications and messages of good will is not new – and it is not something which will likely ever be completely replaced. While the rise of digital messaging and instant communication has had a big impact on the greetings card industry and the way that individuals send greetings to others, the industry has adapted to remain relevant and is likely to always hold a place of importance for those who value the idea of a hand written and posted card.
Moving forward into 1843, this was the year that the first known Christmas card was circulated across London by Sir Henry Cole, who had an artist draw up a holiday card to send to his friends. And the rest, as they say, is history – with thousands of crafters and artists across the world still making their living in the creative industry through the design and production of greetings cards for a growing range of occasions.
When it comes to determining the trends which influence and shape the greetings cards industry, one of the most important things to note is the two-pronged and completely juxtaposing impact that digitalisation and technology has had. On one hand, the rise of digital reliance has meant that cards are taking a back step in favour of e-cards and direct messaging apps; meanwhile, on the other hand, the opportunity for marketing and the visual showcasing of card designs through social media platforms and ecommerce marketplace sites has given independent crafters and card retailers a huge boost in the way that they can get their card designs out to a wider audience.
The fact is, nine out of every ten households buy greetings cards every year, and for the most part 85% of these purchases are made by women – a demographic far more likely to put time into selecting different cards for different individuals at various points in the year, while a male shopper is far more likely to be influenced by a specific need or a special occasion. This overwhelming insight into the target buyer highlights the importance of the way that greetings cards are marketed and showcased both in stores and online, leaning on the idea that targeted advertising should be tailored towards female buyers.
Once you get into the heart of the greetings card industry, it quickly becomes clear which sectors are creating an increase in sales and growing trends, while others are falling away. For example, in recent years handcrafted and handmade cards are becoming increasingly appreciated, especially with the rise of campaigns like ‘Just a Card’ which introduces the idea that the sale of one handmade card can make a huge different to a small business – while to largescale retailers in the sector, one card means nothing. This basic ideology is being used across a variety of different industries, consistently encouraging shoppers to head to local stores and small online businesses in order to support industry creatives rather than channel more money into the pockets of big industry players – with the concept of shopping small backed up by the huge spike in sales across ecommerce marketplace sites which give these small businesses a platform to sell on. NotOnTheHighstreet and Etsy are both prime examples of marketplace sites which lend themselves to the growth and expansion of the handmade greetings card industry, with some of the most successful brands using both these largescale sites along with their own ecommerce platform sites and social media pages in order to drive extra footfall and expand their viewing audience as wide as possible.
Some of the most successful greetings card small businesses are also taking small steps to create a more meaningful and valuable experience for the buyer, with examples including:
Another trend in the greetings card industry, and one which has picked up a great following over the last few years in particular, is the rise of the e-card – changing the way that brands operate and altering the way that shoppers approach various greetings card occasions. One of the interesting things about e-cards in particular is the way in which they are used in line with different occasions – with buyers seemingly deciding that while sending e-cards for some occasions like birthdays and Christmas is acceptable, there are other occasions where the less personal option is not the right approach – for example weddings and funerals. E-cards have come on a long way in the last few years especially, moving from a basic email format to something highly visual and often playful in its design – however, the lack of personalisation still remains an overwhelming factor in specific sectors within the industry.
Similar to e-cards is the rise of cards which can be personalised and ordered online, often through largescale ecommerce retail sites and photo sharing service sites like Moonpig, Funky Pigeon, Snapfish and Vista Print. A fairly recent development in the greetings cards industry but one which has given these large global retailers a huge boost in sales is the arrival of personalisation whereby buyers can select a basic template and add their own messages, names, greetings messages and photos, before sending the card either to themselves to handwrite a message, or straight to the recipient. While these retailers operate a very different area of the industry when compared with the handmade cards and small business creations advertised across marketplace sites and social campaign sites, the personalisation options combined with the low prices that large retail leaders can afford to charge makes their offering compelling – and forces small businesses to work even harder to draw buyers away from the low price points of Moonpig and towards the financially viable prices charged by small business owners.
And then we have the types of cards available on the market, not only encompassing the personalised variety and the handcrafted cards, but also taking into account the style of the card itself. Some of the leading products in the greetings card industry include:
The latter two in this list are of particular interest due to the way in which they are approached by buyers and designers. While both corporate and charity cards rely heavily on branding and organisational designs in order to quickly portray who the card is from, the ideas and intentions behind the two types of greeting cards are very different. Corporate cards tend to be designed for large holidays and occasions, designed to send out to clients and colleagues to share messages of good will and most importantly to keep the company name in the forefront of clients’ minds. Meanwhile, charity cards operate in a sector of their own – with many charities using card design competitions in order to drive engagement and involve their following in the entire production of the cards – using this consistent involvement as a means of ensuring the cards are then purchased by that captive audience. Charity cards are in fact so successful that it is estimated around £50 million is raised through the sales of Christmas charity cards every single year.
Did you know that while ecommerce is a vastly important and ever-growing part of the retail world, buyers are still most likely to head into a bricks and mortar store to pick and choose their favourite cards for purchase?
When it comes to ascertaining and determining the top retailers in the greetings cards industry, it is important to distinguish between local sales and global sales. What buyers tend to find is that retailers in their local vicinity are likely to stock greetings cards made by local crafters and small businesses; aiding the community in their support of the local small businesses, and playing into the ‘shop small’ trend which is making waves across a variety of retail industries. The fact is, if a buyer sees a greetings card that they love, they are very likely to make a spontaneous purchase – namely because cards sit within the affordable price range of a spontaneous purchase, and are nearly always applicable to at least one upcoming occasion. With more and more card retailers covering more and more occasions and situations with their various designs, the market is only becoming more inclusive – and thus more appealing to buyers who are looking for one-off cards to send messages of good wishes and even “thinking of you” notes.
Then we come to the big name retailers in the industry; namely those we have already mentioned plus a few other well known retail brands which dominate the sector. Moonpig and Funky Pigeon are both examples of ecommerce greetings card retailers which rely on huge selections of cards available for every perceivable occasion, offering fast delivery, low prices and tons of different deals and discounts to entice buyers in and encourage them to return time and time again. Meanwhile, in looking at the high street retailers and physical stores, top retailers include Hallmark and Clintons Cards which are renowned for stocking cards across every industry and specialising in complimentary products which also sit within the gifts and occasions umbrella industry.
Achieving success in the greetings cards industry is as much about serving and understanding the industry trends as it is about reading the local demand and creating something unique – something which small businesses in particular must focus on in order to continue to see success as the market becomes ever more saturated with standard, comedic, personalised and digital greetings cards.
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