They are lining the shelves and should soon be lining our mantle pieces, but latest research from Mintel reveals there may be a little less writing this year, as sales of Christmas cards are declining. Over the past four years, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of Brits buying Christmas cards as while in 2006 as many as 84% of us sent a Christmas card, this has dropped to just 73% in 2009.

The value of Christmas card sales has also declined. Over the past five years, sales of Christmas cards have decreased by 5% from £272 million in 2005 to an estimated £259 million in 2010. The setback in came during 2008 (dropping to £266 million), hard on the heels of the credit crunch when consumers gave a knee-jerk reaction to Christmas cards sending and trimmed back their spending. Volume sales are expected to be roughly the same in 2010 as 2009, but consumers will cut back spending. Today, as many as 78% of women send Christmas cards compared to less than seven in ten (67%) of men.

Michelle Strutton, Senior Consumer Analyst at Mintel said:

“Following the recession, consumers bought slightly fewer greeting cards and were thriftier about their purchases and in 2010, it seems gloomy economic forecasts and the threat of job cuts are making consumers ever-more cautious. While at Christmas, people want to celebrate and send happy greetings to friends and family, it seems the market for Christmas cards has been weak and hit by consumers opting for lower priced cards and bulk packs or just not sending any at all. As a result, price competition has been increasing, already evident in the increase of bulked packed card assortments in shops and supermarkets for the Christmas season this year. “

But it is not the whole greetings card market which has suffered. Indeed, sales of ” everyday” cards (including birthdays) and “spring cards”have increased by 5% and 6% respectively. Furthermore, the popularity of sending birthday cards has increased slightly, rising from 90% in 2006 to 92% in 2009. Today, Birthdays (92%), Christmas (73%) and Mothers Day (44%) are the top three card buying occasions. This year, Mothers Day overtook Anniversaries (36%) to become the third most popular card sending occasion. Dads also seem to be growing in popularity in terms of card sending. While the number of people sending cards on Mothers Day remains the same at just over four in ten Brits (42%), Dad is now more likely to be the lucky recipient of a Fathers Day card, with the number of Brits sending a Father’s Day card increasing from 32% in 2006 to 35% in 2010.

Overall, consumer spending on greeting cards has been flat for several years, and is expected to fall by 1.3% in 2010 from £1.5 billion in 2009 to £1.48 billion in 2010. There has been a polarisation, with growing demand for special cards as well as lower-priced options. By the end of the year the average Brit will have spent £24 on cards, and this year we will send just under 1.5 billion cards. There are also warning signs that some consumers are beginning to object to paying too much for a greeting card. Although a third (34%) of consumers believe that the style of the card is more important than price, four in ten (40%) feel that cards are too expensive. One in five (21%) consumers has cut back their card spending compared with a year or two ago. Although money is tight, goodwill remains in the nation’s heart. One fifth (21%) of consumers try to buy charity cards whenever they can and a quarter (24%) are willing to spend more if it’s for charity.

Finally, it seems that the digital revolution has not overtaken ‘real’ cards for Brits just yet. While in 2010, seven in ten adults have a computer at home, making it easy for people to stay in touch, it seems it is underexploited for greetings as only 14% of home internet users sent e-greetings in 2010. Indeed, Mintel’s research reveals only 12% of consumers send e-cards or texts as well as greeting cards, just 8% use automatic reminders and 5% use paid for e-card companies.

“Despite competition from virtual alternatives like e-greetings or greetings via text messaging, a ‘real’ card is regarded as more special by consumers and so the market for cards is expected to be resilient to competition from virtual alternatives. “Michelle concludes.

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