Cards for all nonoccasions are driving incremental sales in the lucrative greeting card departments at supermarkets.
According to one major card company, alternative cards represent the fastest growing segment of the greeting card business. The category reportedly is posting an annual sales growth rate of 25% to 30% each year and now accounts for 25% of the total retail greeting card market.
Defined as those cards that fall outside the realm of the traditional everyday greeting card, alternative cards are contemporary, offbeat, humorous and sometimes bizarre. Ethnic, inspirational, blank and nonoccasional cards all come under the umbrella of alternative cards.
Retailers have been quick to take advantage of the
impulse sales that alternatives can generate by merchandising them in outpost locations of their stores. Nearly half of all alternative cards purchased are impulse buys.
Margaret McEwan, vice president of consumer information at Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass., confirmed that alternative cards are contributing to the sales growth of the chain's greeting card department. The chain devotes 12 feet of space to alternative cards in the regular card department.
"Seeing them at the supermarket may be initially an impulse sale; as people remember them, they become a planned" purchase, she said.
Alternative cards are "a combination of planned and impulse purchases," said Sally Sanborn, director of trade and consumer relations at Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif.
"For those shoppers that know our stores, they know they're there and come in deliberately if they need a card. For others, if they're not really familiar with our stores, it's more of an impulse sale," she explained.
"They appeal to shoppers in the 25- to 45-year age group who are always under time constraints," said Dave Sinwell, manager of nonfood at Dahl's Food Markets, Des Moines, Iowa. "They don't always have the time to sit down and write notes, while others have a hard time expressing their thoughts. That's why these cards are so popular." Dahl's has made alternative cards "a targeted section of the greeting card department."
The retailer has set up its alternative card selection as a mainstay of the card department and organized them into subsegments of various themes.
Alternatives are "showing the fastest growth of anything in the greeting card category," Sinwell added.
At Harris Teeter, Charlotte, N.C., alternative cards are fairly new.
"It's another offering for our customers when selecting their card needs," said Bill Fisher, manager of general merchandise and health and beauty care.
Although the chain has tried outposting alternative cards on a limited basis, it is setting its alternative cards in line with the main card department where there is room. "We are careful not to interfere with the everyday selections," he noted.
Fisher added that alternative cards "fit specific niches and that's why we're putting them in outposted areas like floral."
Sanborn of Save Mart said sales of alternative cards are growing 8% to 10% a year, and represent about 20% of overall department sales. Save Mart also has increased space for alternative cards in the past year.
"Alternative cards are geared to 25- to 45-year-old shoppers, as they are more contemporary and they appeal to the younger purchaser," she added.
As far as generating incremental sales in the card department, "they have become much more important. We have special sections in line. We also put them in place on endcap displays in our seasonal sets off season at the seasonal merchandising areas in each of our stores."
Alternative card sales soared 50% at Strack & Van Til, Highland, Ind., after the segment's display space and variety were significantly expanded.
"At some stores we expanded alternative cards from 4- to 16-foot sections and at others it went from 8- to 12-foot sections," said Jim Johnsen, director of HBC and general merchandise buyer and supervisor.
Also driving growth of the segment is the quick reaction of card companies to the topical nature of the product, Johnsen explained. He said card manufacturers' turnaround "of around six months is very fast in developing and bringing out new alternative cards, compared to 18 months for new traditional cards."
"Anything that's newsworthy or something people are interested in, including taxes," draws shoppers' response, Johnsen said.
Alternative cards have done well and continue to grow at Rosauers Supermarkets, Spokane, Wash. "Whenever we can get more footage for the department, we put in those categories," said Norm Carpenter, director of general merchandise.
The alternative segment has been given added space in the card section and is merchandised on six or seven 4-foot-wide cabinets that Rosauers added to accommodate the larger item mix.
Carpenter said alternative cards "appeal to a younger consumer, as the cards are more irreverent."
M Systems, San Angelo, Texas, has given alternative cards sizable footage at its stores, according to Shirley Smith, director of nonfood.
The chain has created sections ranging from 4 feet to 20 feet in varied alternative selections based on neighborhood preferences, she said.
Alternative cards in animal themes "do super good at some stores and are highly appealing to our customers. Greeting cards are not all for a specific purpose like an anniversary or a birthday. Now there are really cute alternative cards that fit almost any need."
M Systems is selling "more alternative cards than traditional selections. They appeal to younger customers in the 25- to 45-year age group and are a good way to boost overall department sales," she said.