This holiday season, you might have been given gifts like smart speakers or those Hallmark socks that have taken over internet ads. Perhaps you were given a book from an independent bookstore, or maybe an artsy friend bought you an amorphous blobject.
Whatever the present, the odds are you were probably also handed a card. That’s because unlike dial-up, floppy disks, or department stores, greeting cards have managed to prevail in the digital age.
Despite cards’ disposable and at times kitschy nature, retail sales hit $7.5 billion annually. That’s not to say the internet hasn’t hurt the sector — in 2015, industry giant Hallmark downsized significantly, restructuring the company in order to keep up with online competitors, and overall revenue within the greeting card industry has been declining over the years.
But according to the Greeting Card Association, a trade organization, Americans buy about 6.5 billion cards a year, with 1.6 billion selling during the holiday season alone. This figure includes cards sold at stores like CVS, Duane Reade, and Papyrus, but doesn’t count the lucrative online greeting card category: Companies like Paperless Post and Evite help the e-card industry make about $620 million a year, according to IBISWorld.
Why such love for paper cards? Industry stalwarts, like those who attend the annual Louies, the “Oscars” for greeting card designers, speak of a collective desire to go back to something tangible.
“People were starting to use email as a replacement, but over time they found they weren’t making the same meaningful connection,” Peter Doherty, the Greeting Card Association’s executive director, told the Chicago Tribune recently.
While 45 million people sent birthday cards on Facebook last year, nine in 10 households in the US also buy about 30 greeting cards a year, according to the Greeting Card Association. Facebook posts are nice, but they don’t make it to the fridge.
As Hallmark chief marketing officer of greetings Lindsey Roy has said, “we’re all discovering the renewed interest, if you will, in paper and stationery and tactile experiences. Some people see it like other categories that have gone completely digital, like music, CDs, or newspapers. I’m always excited to say no, the greeting card category is not in that state.”
Nostalgia is also certainly a factor, which could be why greeting cards are a particular favorite of millennials. While this age group has been blamed for killing cable subscriptions, gym memberships, and American cheese, millennials are the largest age group of greeting card buyers, Doherty told the Chicago Tribune. And while the average greeting card shopper spends $2 to $4 on a card, millennials on the East Coast actually drop about $6 per card. If you need proof of their burgeoning popularity, head on over to trendy retailer Urban Outfitters, whose greeting card section is always robust.
“There’re so many college students that come in and will spend,” Lauren Gryniewski, the owner of the Minneapolis gift and card shop Greater Goods, told Slate. “I think they grew up with so much technology that they put even more weight on something handwritten than we did growing up.”
Greeting cards aren’t the only paper has-been that’s thriving today. Hip startups like Away, Harry’s, Casper, Glossier, and Quip love to advertise through mail. It’s now pretty common to spend money on glossy, minimalist mailers, as potential customers are likely deleting marketing emails in order to stay on top of their perpetually flooded inboxes. Brands like Amazon have also caught on to the affection for paper; it sent 20 million customers toy catalogs this holiday season.
Greeting cards give recipients something to hold on to, and can feel like a more authentic way to take in kind wishes than from an online missive. Plus, judging by the nearly 1 million posts with the hashtag #GreetingCard, they look pretty good on Instagram too.