Do you have stamps? The pandemic is fueling a boom in greeting cards offering cheer — and some are pretty cheeky. – Chicago Tribune

Early this year, Lynda Junge saw her wedding invitation business in Downers Grove come to a halt as the coronavirus pandemic caused couples to postpone their nuptials.

On a whim, she designed a handful of Mother’s Day cards for her business, Greenstar Paperie, riffing on social distancing and other related themes. She posted the cards to the Etsy marketplace and started hearing cash register-like notifications on her smartphone.

“They went off like crazy,” she said.

Among his bestsellers are cards that say, “Hi my friend, this is your postal mail sanity check. You’re okay ? and “Wave a signal from a safe distance.” It’s just not the same on Zoom.

Junge, 41, expects an even bigger boom as the holiday season approaches as people socially estranged from friends and family seek to connect during the emotional roller coaster of 2020.

A July study by online photo company Shutterfly found that the number of people buying greeting cards this year is expected to rise 7% from last year, and that around a third of consumers plan to buy greeting cards. send more greeting cards this year than last.

Chicago-based Paper Source said customers were buying holiday cards earlier, with some requesting them as early as September. Etsy saw a 23% increase in searches for greeting cards last month compared to September of last year.

It’s a welcome turnaround for the $7 billion greeting card industry, which has seen a decline in recent years. Last year, Americans sent about half as many greeting cards in the mail as they did a decade ago, according to US Postal data. That’s partly because of the rise of digital alternatives like email, social media and companies that publish photo cards online, like Shutterfly, according to research firm IBISWorld.

But the coronavirus has given the industry an unexpected boost, with online sales surging and increased demand from affluent shoppers.

Card makers expect higher than normal sales over the holidays as people hunker down at home with more time to write and send cards, said George White, president of the Greeting Card Association.

“This could be a powerful moment for our industry,” White said, referring to the pandemic. “Greeting cards have a unique ability to forge bonds.”

Many of these greeting card sales will take place online this year. Even before the pandemic, the way customers shop for greeting cards began to shift away from physical stores and towards e-commerce. The advent of online marketplaces like Amazon and Faire.com kicked off the shift to buying cards online and in 2019 retailers like CVS Pharmacy and Walmart began giving cards less space in stores. wishes. As with other consumer goods, the virus has accelerated the trend and card retailers have set up for online sale, pickup and delivery.

From April to June, Paper Source, whose 135 stores were affected by government shutdown orders, saw sales of greeting cards from its website increase tenfold compared to the same period last year, according to the CEO Winnie Park.

Hallmark chief marketing officer Lindsey Roy said hallmark.com’s business tripled this year, which Roy attributed to demand for greeting cards. Hallmark, a private company that also sells small gifts, ornaments and home decor, declined to disclose sales data.

Roy said the company’s market research shows people are turning to buying cards that reference connection, encouragement and gratitude – themes related to the pandemic. Paper Source also saw a surge in card purchases in these categories, according to Park.

Emily McDowell, who is selling her Emily McDowell & Friends greeting cards at Paper Source and Fourside stores in Chicago, knows it’s hard to find the right words to say to someone who has lost their job, loved one or source of community. She built her business on making sure people who don’t know what to say to a grieving friend can find a way to connect.

McDowell’s cards contain empathetic messages like, “No card can improve this. But I’ll give you one anyway” and “I’m so sorry I haven’t been in touch. I did not know what to say.

“People are afraid to say something wrong and that stops them from reaching out and showing up,” McDowell said. “The cards are an opportunity to start a conversation and connect at this time when we are at our lowest and most alone.”

Chicagoan Cat Hildner, owner of online card store Kitty Meow, said her sales jumped from March and remained high. She credits her success to the presence she has built on the social media platforms Pinterest and Instagram, where she forms personal connections with customers.

“I think giving people the opportunity to get to know me, the person behind the small business, has really, really helped sales,” Hildner, 35, said.

One of Hildner’s coronavirus-themed cards reads, “You are essential every day. But especially during this holiday season.

Card makers set up for e-commerce that cater to wealthier markets performed best. These customers tend to shop at specialty stores and look for cards with unique messages, which typically command higher prices. These markets are better able to weather economic downturns, which is a competitive advantage, said Kevin Kennedy, analyst for IBISWorld.

Prices for greeting cards range from 50 cents to over $10, according to the Greeting Card Association. Most cards found in grocery stores and pharmacies cost between $2 and $4.

Searches for greeting cards on Etsy, where Junge’s cards sell for between $5 and $7, have jumped 73% in the past three months compared to the same time last year.

Paper Source, where cards sell for $5 to $12, markets itself as a lifestyle brand, offering cards from independent card makers. It’s appealing to the demographic that spends more money on greeting cards than any other: millennials. According to McKinsey consumer research, members of this group are more likely to opt for specialty products than for mainstream brands.

Park said the company’s overall greeting card sales, including in-store purchases, would reach $16 million this year, with revenue from online sales offsetting declines from the effect of the coronavirus on its physical stores.

But while some card sellers have been boosted by the pandemic, much of the industry has seen significant declines, according to Kennedy. He said revenue from greeting cards and related products was down 18.4% in the second quarter at the height of the pandemic, compared to a year ago.

In July, Hallmark announced plans to lay off 120 workers. The same month, The Paper Store, which is a Hallmark partner and part of its Gold Crown stores, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing the impact of the coronavirus on its physical stores.

Todd Mack, owner of Fourside, a greeting card and framing shop, said sales at his four Chicago-area stores fell nearly 95% during Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, with few online purchases, primarily for empathy-themed greeting cards.

“Fortunately, the human need is to continue sending cards to loved ones regardless of the current state of the pandemic,” said Mack, who reopened his store in late May. “Greeting cards continue to be our businesses’ small rent payers.”

Mack said in September card sales were back to about the same level as last year, but restrictions on the number of people who can enter the store and the reluctance to shop in person are a challenge.

Although a number of local stores near Fourside’s flagship location in the Andersonville neighborhood have closed under the pressure of the pandemic, Mack said he has no plans to close and that he “will suffer from it at all costs”.

Paper Source, spurred by huge online growth at the start of the pandemic, has no plans to close its brick-and-mortar operations despite acquiring 27 stores from the bankrupt greeting card and gift retailer Papyrus just before the pandemic. Park said 21 of those locations have been converted to Paper Source stores, with the rest opening by the end of October. Still, the company has made adjustments such as imposing pay cuts and reducing store staff.

“We’re just trying to survive this time and the down cycle in business because of COVID,” Park said.

Mika R. Pyle