Greeting card retailers have had a tough year as key events such as Mother’s Day and Christmas were celebrated in lockdown. Despite the closure of non-essential stores, demand from consumers held up well, with 89% purchasing a greeting card in the past 12 months.

The impact of COVID-19 has seen some of this demand move online as consumers look for personalised cards to send to loved ones. While in the personal stationery market, we have seen consumers take up journal writing as a way to maintain their wellbeing. The pandemic has helped boost the use of both mediums as a way for consumers to express and channel emotions during a year that has been challenging for many.

The rise of digital communications and online shopping remains a threat to card specialists and independents that depend on a high-street presence. Looking at the performance from leading retailers, we see that many were unable to regain losses made from closed stores. Paperchase was one of the first casualties in the sector to fall under the impact of COVID-19, although it had been struggling for some years due to declining footfall on the high street – something the pandemic will have further exacerbated.

Going forward, card retailers should tap into the trends COVID-19 has helped to boost. The pandemic has heightened consumers’ sense of belonging and as such, sending greeting cards is one of the key ways in which consumers have kept in touch with family and friends during lockdown. Despite the rise of digital communications, the pandemic has put a renewed focus on the traditional pastime as people look for a way to switch off from the digital world. Retailers should be aligning marketing and innovation efforts with the wellbeing trend, which has become increasingly multifaceted, giving retailers plenty of scope to help define the term for greeting card and personal stationery shoppers.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on the greetings card and personal stationery market.

  • How card retailers can encourage seasonless card purchasing.

  • How stationery retailers can support the new work-from-home environment.

  • Behaviours relating to personal stationery shopping habits.

  • Behaviours relating to greetings card shopping habits.

COVID-19: market context

The first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK at the end of January 2020, with a small number of cases in February. As the case level rose, the government ordered the closure of non-essential stores on 20 March. 

A wider lockdown requiring people to stay at home except for essential shopping, exercise and work ‘if absolutely necessary’ followed on 23 March. It wasn’t until 15 June that non-essential stores were allowed to reopen, followed by pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers on 4 July, and many beauty businesses on 13 July.

By September, it had become clear that the UK was at the start of a second wave, and social-distancing measures were intensified. Continued increases in infection numbers led to Wales implementing a two-week national lockdown from 19 October, England announcing a month-long lockdown from 5 November, and Scotland introducing a new five-level system of coronavirus restrictions. 

Despite these restrictions, however, case numbers continued to increase. All four UK nations tightened restrictions in January 2021, effectively leading to a full UK-wide lockdown. There is no defined end date for the lockdown, although the legislation regarding the English lockdown that was presented to Parliament extends to 31 March.

The UK’s vaccination programme started on 8 December, 2020, and with both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines licensed for use in the UK, the government aims to offer a vaccine to 15m people by mid-February.

Our core assumptions on the path of the pandemic had always included an expectation of severe disruption to markets and consumers’ lifestyles well into 2021, with a strong likelihood that the virus would still be with us even into 2022. Although the second wave of infections and subsequent lockdown puts us towards the negative end of our initial expectations, these developments are still broadly consistent with our previous assumptions.

Similarly, Mintel had factored in the likelihood that an effective vaccine would be available from early- to mid-2021. The licensing of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines puts us slightly ahead of that assumption, but the challenge associated with rolling out a new vaccination programme to millions of people means that our previous assumptions are still broadly consistent with the new reality.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel’s economic assumptions are based on the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)’s central scenario included in its November 2020 Fiscal Sustainability Report. The scenario suggests that UK gross domestic product (GDP) will have fallen by 11.3% in 2020, recovering by 5.5% in 2021, and 6.6% in 2022. GDP isn’t expected to return to pre-COVID levels until the fourth quarter of 2022. The central scenario has unemployment peaking at 7.5% in Q2 2021.

The current uncertainty means that there is wide variation on the range of forecasts, however, and this is reflected in the OBR’s own scenarios. In its upside scenario, economic activity returns to pre-COVID-19 levels by Q4 2021. Its more negative scenario, by contrast, would mean that GDP doesn’t recover until Q3 2024.

The second wave of infections and subsequent lockdowns means that the short-term prospects for the country are consistent with the OBR’s negative scenario, but this needs to be balanced against the fact that the vaccine roll-out is ahead of even the OBR’s central scenario. Medium to long term, then, we are still basing our forecasts and market analysis on the OBR’s central economic scenario.

Products covered in this Report

This Report covers the UK market for greetings cards and personal stationery.

The greetings card market includes greetings cards for birthdays, seasonal occasions (ie Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Easter) and other everyday occasions (birthdays, anniversaries, good luck and blank cards etc). It includes cards from print-on-demand companies as well as conventional paper greetings cards.

Personal stationery covers anything that people use for writing, including paper, envelopes, journals, diaries, notepads, pencil cases, pens and pencils but we exclude stationery for home office consumption as well as other home office supplies. Art and craft supplies are also excluded.

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