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Greeting cards vs. social media


Published:   |   Updated: March 11, 2013 at 08:56 PM

New technology, changing demographics reasons for Hallmark, American Greeting Card layoffs

SEBRING People still have birthdays, weddings, babies, anniversaries. And, of course, friends and family still have that shocking habit of dying on the rest of us.

So why did Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards Inc. shed 300 jobs and shut the plant that made one-third of its greeting cards? Chief rival American Greetings, Cleveland, Ohio, also trimmed costs and jobs during the recession.

A postal survey attributed a decline in cards and letters to "changing demographics and new technologies."

And not-so-new Ma Bell advocated reaching out and touching someone in 1979, a subtle way of saying a phone call was just as good as sending a card or flowers on Mother's Day. Then came the fax, then email, and then the real category-killer: Facebook.

That cultural shift is worrisome for Hallmark, the nation's top card maker.

Correspondence fell 24 percent between 2002 and 2010, the U.S. Postal Service study revealed. Invitations alone dropped nearly 25 percent between 2008 and 2010.

"I'm really, really bad at it," Melissa Uhl told the Associated Press. The 25-year­old nanny from Kansas City, Mo., hears from friends largely through Facebook. "Maybe an ecard from my mom."

Even at Cindy's Hallmark in Lakeshore Mall, only 35 percent of the store is dedicated cards. Owner Mike Cowan said the big sellers, over in the gift section, are Willow Tree figurines and scented wax pottery.

"The economy is killing us," Cowan said. He has owned five Hallmark shops in Avon Park and Sebring; one remains in the mall and another in the shopping center near Winn-Dixie.

While Hallmark is committed to the paper greeting card, it too has changed over the years. There's an iPhone app, for example, that lets people buy and mail cards from their phones.

Paper greeting cards are so few and far between, they're now seen as something special, instead of something required.

Judith Martin, author of the syndicated Miss Manners column, agrees in part: "The most formal situations still require something written. The least formal are easily taken care of with texting or email, which is terrific."

Greeting card shoppers are mostly older, Cowan said, even though they buy cards sporting Batman, Spiderman and Justin Bieber's faces.

Customers can also buy Hallmark cards in Walgreen's, Walmart and Target, but Cowan says his Hallmark is the only store to stock selection of specialty cards for kids who get their first driver's license or a condolence card on the death of a pet. And, he adds, where else can a shopper buy a wedding gift, get it wrapped and buy the card, all in one stop?

Over the past decade, Hallmark estimates the number of greeting cards sold in the United States has dropped from 6 billion to 5 billion annually. The Greeting Card Association, an industry trade group based in White Plains, N.Y., puts the figure at 7 billion.

"What Hallmark started with met the needs of the consumers in that early 20th century period to mass produce these personal greeting cards with art and poems, and the only way you could communicate was by mail, essentially," said Pam Danziger, who analyzes the industry as president of Unity Marketing, Stevens, Pa. "It's no surprise that in the 21st century, with so many other communication vehicles available, that the old idea of a greeting card being sent by mail just doesn't work anymore."

But market anomalies abound, like American Greeting Card adding 125 workers to an Osceola, Ark., plant. It's part of an expansion that allows customers to design their own cards. Online, of course.

Our Facebook readers say:

Rox N Dil Gilleo they cost to much from hallmark

Linda Arnold Yes, cards are expensive and usually don't really say what you want.

Harrell Linda Send out cards is a great way. It is all done on computer but it is a hard copy card that gets mailed right from the company to the recipients mail box.

Delia Payne To really bring a smile to someone's face send it snail mail. You can't send a care package on FB.

Stephanie Sherrae Hadwin Yes. Nothing like a stamped piece of mail coming to you that isn't a bill! Much more touching than a Facebook post!

Tenacious Tonya Marshall I still send Birthday & Holiday cards every year.


The Associated Press contributed to this story gpinnell@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5828
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