Greeting cards that once occupied the prime place in swish stores have now been relegated to non-descript niches
Recently, when spring-cleaning fever hit the family, a dusty, dog-eared bundle tumbled off the loft. In it were precious memories from the growing-up years: letters from buddies and everyday cards that conveyed so much — from why it is important to smile and the pleasure of having women friends to poetry that captured the flush of first love and made you feel better after a spat with your best pal!
“How I miss those days. We would cherish every card we received, and spend hours choosing the right one… everything had to be just perfect,” recalls business writer Hemangi Krishna Sharma. She recently set out to buy an everyday card for a friend, just to let her know she was thinking of her. “I was so looking forward to an inspirational note from the likes of someone as Helen Steiner Rice or a cutesy picture of babies by child photographer Anne Geddes. But, there was simply nothing! And, the card corner was lost in the maze of a store.”
Sudharshana, a homemaker, agrees. “I used to love Hallmark's ‘between You and Me' series; it almost seemed like the writer knew just what I wanted to say.” Now, she settles for “reasonably good” cards, and makes up her own verses to make them extra special.
There are loads of reasons for the slump in the greeting card segment. Some years ago, e-cards almost sounded their death knell, but they (physical cards) managed to survive, mainly thanks to the corporate sector that continued to send out a bevy of cards on every festive occasion.
Today, the business has competition from forces as varied as SMS, e-mail and chats! Also, the range has come down drastically; as has floor space.
And, the first victim? General cards. You do have regular cards for birthdays, anniversaries, farewells, et al, but even there, there's not really much to choose from.
But, Shankar R., business manager, Archies, which has six Archies Galleries in the city, says business has picked up from last year. And, they are back to presenting newer varieties. It's not all about variety, though. Space matters, and in many stores, the wall space allotted to greeting cards has been scaled down in tune with the demand or lack of it.
The reasons, those in the field say, are many. For one, these days, it is relatively inexpensive to send e-mails, or an SMS to wish someone. Also, the price of cards has gone up in keeping with rising manufacturing costs, making it unaffordable for many.
Teens and youth, traditionally the biggest market for cards, have also turned their backs on cards.
People are also upset that greeting cards have become very repetitive and predictable.
And, the innocence associated with cheeky cards (remember the Fountainhead brand that came with great punch lines accentuated by real groundnuts and safety pins?) has degenerated into something else altogether, they say.
And, who would know better than Arun Kumar Bagga, who started dealing in greeting cards in 1967! His Century Stationeries in the city distributes Hallmark, L.R., Monarch and Signature brands of cards. “There used to be a time when I bought 2,000 packets of the ‘Between You and Me' series, and they moved off the shelves in no time.
Of late, it's almost like people have no time to express their feelings. Also, many Westernised puns and jokes are lost on most!”
But, what about those who do understand refined humour and want to indulge?
“Stores need to first train their purchase officers to choose better, and sales staff to explain better. For, a manufacturer might make cards, but how will they reach customers unless they are placed on a shelf for them to choose from?” he asks.
That's a question everyone needs to ask, for what else but greeting cards can bring on a beatific smile on faces, and a rush of emotions?
As for the interrupted spring-cleaning, now who can resist the temptation of revisiting youth, especially when it comes ensconced in greeting cards of many hues and words?SUBHA J. RAO