Valentine's Day: Why the digital age hasn't ended our love affair with card-giving

Does a love note sound any less sweet if sent via text? Around Valentine’s Day, most people seem to think so. An estimated 40 million Valentine’s cards are exchanged in Canada each year, and the digital age doesn't seem to be slowing sales.

An estimated 40M Valentine's cards are exchanged in Canada each year, and another 131 million in the U.S.

Valentine's Day is the second most popular card-buying holiday after Christmas, according to the U.S.-based Greeting Card Association. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Does a love note sound any less sweet if sent via text? Around Valentine's Day, most people seem to think so.

Consumers are expected to shell out an average of $150.33 on the holiday this year, on everything from flowers and candy, to jewelry and dinners out. And then, of course, there are the cards.

An estimated 40 million Valentine's cards are exchanged in Canada each year, and another 131 million in the U.S. It's the second-most popular card-buying holiday after Christmas.

"There's irreplaceable value in a greeting card," says Carlos LLanso, president of the U.S.-based Greeting Card Association.

"The sentiment that goes with it, the time that the person took to send it, the ability to hold that card, to smell it — if you like the smell of ink and paper, as I do — and to have something you can put up on your mantle."

Downward trend for cards?

Greeting cards are still a $7- to $8-billion industry, according to GCA statistics, but the industry is struggling to stay relevant in the digital age. A recent report projected a "downward trend" for greeting cards, with sales forecast to drop by five per cent annually over the next five years.

But LLanso, who is also the CEO of Massachusetts-based Legacy Publishing, says all indications show that today's social media-engulfed millennials are still sending cards, especially "when it matters."

"We're not oblivious to the fact that social media adds another way of doing some of what a greeting card does," he says. "But it's not an industry that's in dire straights, like some people would like to say."

People continue to value what LLanso calls "mail moments," that feeling you get when you receive a brightly coloured, card-sized envelope in your mailbox and immediately know it's not a bill or junk mail.

He also says he sees a lot of young entrepreneurs entering the industry, bringing along fresh ideas and a touch more humour — cards that tend to speak in the voice of a younger generation.

That's part of what inspired Cassy Collins to launch her own line of cards.

A graphic designer by trade, the Halifax-based Collins launched her online store, Classy Cards, on Etsy about a year ago, and says sales instantly took off. She also sells at the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market and a few other local stores.

"Especially with younger couples, they're not necessarily going to go out and purchase a card expressing how much they love their significant other,"says Collins. "I think something more like an inside joke between two people could possibly say a lot more than some mushy poem that Hallmark wrote up."

Cassy Collins, of Halifax, launched her own line of cards, Classy Cards, about a year ago, saying she wanted to infuse more humour into card-making. (Provided/Classy Cards)
Collins says wine-themed cards remain her most-popular seller, including this one for Valentine's Day. (Provided/Classy Cards)
Collins sells on Etsy and at the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market, where she says customers are sometimes 'shocked' (in a good way) to see swear words on some of her cards. (Provided/Classy Cards)

She says wine-themed cards are her most-popular seller, along with cards with swear words on them — people seem to like the "shock factor," she says.

But Collins also plays with a lot of pop culture references: She has an entire line of Friends-themed cards, one featuring the Left Shark from Katy Perry's 2015 Super Bowl performance, and a Game of Thrones "Red Wedding" card.

"I'm a fairly sarcastic person, and I feel like there are a lot of people who are," she says. "So the typical Hallmark card, I hated buying to give to people because it's not how I would express myself."

Return to 'retro'

Another trend LLanso sees is a return to a more "retro" way of doing things.

Much like vinyl has made a comeback in the music industry, letterpress cards are in vogue once again, he says. As are cards that have more embellishment, more glitter and, in general, offer a more tactile experience.

Pop-up cards seem to be popular, again, too — though now they're 3-D pop-ups.

Handmade cards bring about a sense of nostalgia, perhaps reminding us of when we received our first card, LLanso suggests. At Valentine's Day, it may have been a cut-out heart from a classmate.

The trick is about "making the card more than just a four-panel printed piece of paper with a nice message on it," LLanso says.

Kid Icarus is a Toronto-based print studio and paper shop that focuses on hand-crafted design. In addition to featuring a number of local card-makers, the store has its own line of greeting cards as well. (Provided/Kid Icarus)
This was the most popular card at Kid Icarus for Valentine's Day last year. (Provided/Kid Icarus)

Bianca Bickmore and Michael Viglione, the duo behind Toronto-based print studio and paper shop Kid Icarus, have built their business on hand-crafted design.

"There's definitely a resurgence in hand-printed material, just because everything is digital these days," says Viglione.

"People can hit print and get a full-colour print right off their desktop. When people come in, they're a lot more intrigued by how we're printing things, and how things are being made."

Kid Icarus customers like being able to actually pick up a card, says Bickmore, feeling the weight and the quality of the paper, and seeing the actual ink impressions.

"It's really easy right now to send a text message to somebody and say 'I'm thinking of you,'" Bickmore says. But a card "doesn't just get deleted or taken for granted."

Meet your maker

There's also something special about being able to meet the "maker" of a card and knowing its backstory, says Malika Pannek, of Made in Brockton Village.

Designed and printed in Toronto by a German-Canadian couple, their cards are offset prints of Pannek's hand-painted designs. They are as much art as they are stationery.

Designed and printed in Toronto by a German-Canadian couple, Made in Brockton Village cards feature hand-painted designs and are blank inside. (Provided/Made in Brockton Village)
Made in Brockton Village's Malika Pannek is German, but has been living in Canada for about eight years. She says her inspiration is a mix of clean European design and nature-based Canadian influences. (Provided/Made in Brockton Village)
Pannek, who sells on Etsy and in shops across Canada, says her customers seem to like being able to meet the maker behind the cards they're buying. (Provided/Made in Brockton Village)

"People feel they can really relate to my designs," says Pannek, whose cards are sold on Etsy and in a number of independent shops across Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

"For me it's not so much about puns, but it's something they have seen or experienced before."

And, as LLanso points out, a card offers enormous "emotional value" at a very low price-point — especially if there's a heartfelt message inscribed inside.

But no matter your card-buying preference, he says a romantic email come Feb. 14 is a definite no-no.

"That would be the kiss of death for Valentine's," jokes LLanso. "If ever there was a time not to do that, Valentine's is probably it."


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