Unwrapping Fresh Sales in Greeting Cards and Gifts

Savvy supermarkets can unwrap fresh sales opportunities in cards, gift bags, tissue and seasonal decor
Photograph: Shutterstock

Americans are generous gift givers and sentiment senders. The grocers who make it convenient for shoppers to be so thoughtful stand to gain from greeting cards, wrapping paper and all the trimmings.

“The market for individual cards has remained fairly stable for over a decade at just under $6 billion,” says Steve Laserson, SVP and North American sales officer for Cleveland-based American Greetings. “In fact, household participation for greeting cards is over 80% across all consumer segments.”

american greetings

Photograph courtesy of American Greetings

But as consumers increasingly go online for their gift purchases—according to the 2018 Deloitte holiday retail survey, online spending continues to grow and was estimated to account for 57% of all purchases for the 2018 holiday season—where does that leave supermarkets with salutations and seasonal greetings?

Interestingly, grocers may be uniquely positioned as a top destination for greeting cards, gifts, wrapping paper, gift bags and more—both in-store and online. “As more retail items are sold online, the opportunity to provide customers with the convenience of picking up a card to pair with a gift or express a sentiment is narrowed to a few markets where the retail customer is still shopping in a brick-and-mortar establishment, such as the grocery market,” says Judy Magee Dugan, co-founder of greeting card manufacturer Jumping Cracker Beans, San Jose, Calif.

“We’ve been seeing the grocery market add more gift and floral items, so we have recently started specifically focusing on obtaining more of that market,” she says. 

Grocers who maximize greeting cards and gift-related merchandising and displays, offer products that resonate with shoppers and step up the seasonal flair are best positioned for category success.

Building a Destination 

When Kimberton Whole Foods, a family-owned community market with six stores in northeastern Pennsylvania, wanted to refresh its greeting card merchandising, it turned to Darla Markley, a greeting card industry expert and principal of Darla Markley Sales in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

Markley, who represents Jumping Cracker Beans’ line of everyday cards—many of which are food- and garden-themed, and thus pair well with gourmet or floral gifts purchased at grocery—also represents other alternative greeting card lines such as Calypso, Notes & Queries and Artist to Watch.

“Kimberton wanted to cut space in the card department, so I came up with a plan that allowed them to reduce the space, but in some cases gave them the same or more pockets in which to merchandise cards,” Markley says.

While Kimberton Whole Foods previously employed separate card spinners throughout its whole body/supplements department, it now has one mahogany fixture containing four spinners. Three of the spinners are allocated to popular occasions such as birthdays and sympathy, while the fourth is reserved for seasonal cards. Each summer, the seasonal spinner will be filled with blank cards.

The new format is better organized and easier for customers to shop. “When the cards weren’t organized, the caption balance was off,” Markley says. “At least half of the display should be birthday (the No. 1 selling card).” Before the reformatting, if there were an empty spot, it would be filled randomly rather than with an eye toward maintaining proper product assortment.

“It’s already been successful,” says Markley of the reformatting. “Sales are most definitely up in the four stores that have converted to the new format, and we’ve had so many great comments from customers and management.”

Perhaps most important to the success of Kimberton Whole Foods’ new greeting card display format is how the card selection is resonating with shoppers. “You need to know your audience,” Markley says. “People come to Kimberton Whole Foods for cards, and they’re looking for something that isn’t mainstream.”

For example, while Markley points out that the majority of Americans prefer not to write their own sentiments in a card, the educated, organic- and supplements-seeking customers at Kimberton Whole Foods are comfortable writing their own message, and thus blank cards sell well.

“Additionally, Pennsylvania has a high population of seniors, so sympathy is the second best-selling card after birthday,” she says. “And while wellness isn’t as popular as it once was due to shorter hospital stays, encouragement cards have become more important.”

In addition, the Keystone State also has a high number of colleges and universities, which means that graduation cards are a critical seasonal item. Markley’s pro tip: Keep graduation cards stocked through the Fourth of July, because many folks acknowledge graduates during this popular family holiday.

Challenge for Grocery 

“As millennials buy a larger and larger share of greeting cards, their preferences are being reflected in overall card sales—meaning more alternative, differentiated and expensive cards,” says George White, president and COO of Up With Paper in Mason, Ohio. “They are usually buying them in specialty shops, so the challenge for grocery is to provide the additional looks and formats needed to keep them buying cards where they are buying their groceries, rather than losing these profitable sales to other channels.”

up with paper display

Photograph courtesy of Up With Paper

Product placement is one way for grocers to promote shopper engagement with greeting cards. White finds the best way to generate increased seasonal greeting cards sales is to merchandise seasonal cards in alternative locations rather than exclusively in the greeting card aisle.

Up With Paper has had the greatest sales success in grocery floral departments, like those of St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets. But White also sees opportunities with greeting cards merchandised in the seasonal aisle, near entryways and checkouts, or even in the pharmacy. 

Tech Tidings and More 

For shoppers seeking experiential cards and gifts, American Greetings launched its innovative Music + Motion + More line this spring.

“Each card pairs bold audio with the latest motion technology for a totally new card experience,” Laserson says. “Grocery shoppers will love these all-new, attention-grabbing designs that sing, dance, light up and pop out for kid recipients of all ages.”

American Greetings also recently relaunched its justWink humor program, which has seen growth in unit share at grocery since its inception, Laserson says.

This summer, the company will roll out its wellness-specific and youth-oriented All the Feels programs. “These cards contain a heavy emphasis on thinking of you and nonoccasion messages that deliver engagement and generate store productivity for those stock-up shopping trips,” he says.

Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Mo., is also delivering new ways to wow with the expansion of its Paper Wonder collection this year. The company is featuring new designs for key holidays, such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Graduation, as well as occasions such as birthday, weddings, anniversaries and more.

love ya mucho

Photograph courtesy of Hallmark

“These beautiful 3D pop-up cards are proving to be very successful for our retailers,” says Stacey Howe, VP/GM of national accounts. “Consumers are enjoying the crafted details, unexpected surprise elements and intricate designs.”

Cultural Celebrations 

Uplifted and Love Ya Mucho are two new card collections within the Hallmark Mahogany and Hallmark Vida card lines.

“Uplifted is a celebration of black women and how they connect with one another in ways that are unique to black culture,” Howe says. “The collection is about female empowerment. Its bold designs and empowering editorial are the ideal vehicle for women to uplift each other every day.”

Love Ya Mucho is a new collection of English cards with Spanish words and/or design elements.

“Casual and contemporary designs mixed with positive, conversational and simply stated messages make these cards ideal for consumers who flow seamlessly between English and Spanish, or who speak predominantly English but connect deeply with their Latino culture and lifestyle,” Howe says.

Wrap Artists 

“In the wrap category, bags, paper and tissue continue to outperform due to the convenience they afford consumers,” says Laserson. “For gift wrap, classic patterns, trendy colors and favorite characters come into play as consumers look to coordinate wrappings with seasonal decor or find that perfect design to please the recipient,” he adds.

When it comes to gift wrap, consumers want convenient, easy-to-use options, Howe says. “Our Ready-to-Go bags remain a very popular item for shoppers,” she says. “By providing a gift bag, with corresponding tissue paper and a tag, we are making it easy for someone to wrap a beautiful gift and make it feel special.”

Hallmark also finds that shoppers are seeking premium gift-wrap options. With this in mind, Hallmark Signature is introducing solid colored bags featuring gold metal handles and gold foil accents. As with every gift bag from Hallmark, the collection includes a card pocket, which is a slim sleeve inside the bag in which to tuck a greeting card.

Hello E-Commerce 

Given the accelerated growth of online shopping, greeting card companies such as Hallmark and American Greetings are working with grocery retailers to capture a greater share of sales in this increasingly important channel.

“We are partnering with our retailers to bring their greeting card aisle to their online marketplaces,” Howe says. “As their online capabilities evolve, we iterate right alongside them to bring the best shopping experience for their consumers.”

“We project substantial growth over the next five years for our category as more emphasis is placed on this channel by consumers and retailers alike,” Laserson says.


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