In an age where we can work, communicate and store documents electronically, companies are spending less and less on traditional office products. Yet, when it comes to consumer stationery, the market is booming. Why are stationery and greeting cards winning our hearts when we can reach our nearest and dearest at the touch of a button?
In the digital age, our communication is increasingly electronic. Workplaces would grind to a halt without email. Meanwhile, we rely on text, social media and messaging apps to keep in touch with our friends and families.
Yet against this digital backdrop, we’ve fallen back in love with stationery – in our personal lives at least. In 2015, the UK public spent a record-breaking £1.7bn on greeting cards. Meanwhile, consumer stationery brands such as Paperchase, Scribbler and Smiggle are springing up on high-streets across the UK.
These young, modern brands offer witty greeting cards, luxurious notebooks, striking gift-wrap and a variety of other novelty stationery goods – and they are growing at a pace. Last year Smiggle’s sales increased by 42%. This is part of a wider trend; market analysts Verdict Retail predict the retail stationery market is set to grow by £49.1m in the next five years – with projected sales of £2.1bn by 2021.
Everywhere you look, people are plugged into their smartphones. We can communicate with one another from a mobile device at the touch of a button. So who is buying all this stationery? You may be surprised to hear, it’s the very same people.
Market research identifies 16-24 year olds as the key consumers resuscitating the stationery market. Millennials now buy more greeting cards than Baby Boomers. Yet, this tech-savvy generation is also the largest user base on social media platform InstaGram (39%). In terms of gender, the split between male and female stationery buyers is fairly evenly split, weighted 57.4% towards females. Again, this matches the digital world; Facebook has a 56% female user base.
Given the parallels between these audiences, it’s no surprise that leading industry stakeholders are attributing the revived interest in stationery to the digital world. The stationery market is not growing in spite of electronic communication – the digital world has sparked an analogue resurgence.
In the UK, 102 billion text messages are sent each year and 58% of us use mobile messaging apps. Clearly, electronic communication has become the norm. However, what happens when we want to say something special?
Carlos Llando, President of The Greeting Card Association (GCA), believes social media is responsible for rising sales in greeting cards. When we repeatedly post ‘Happy Birthday’ on social media in the same font and format as everyone else, the words lose their impact. In contrast, Carlos explains that in the consumer stationery market “the product is all about connecting people.” Texts and mobile messages are rapidly lost in our conversation threads. Social media posts quickly become buried in our timelines. Yet, handwritten cards and letters can be treasured – sometimes for a lifetime.
Compared to the impersonal nature of electronic communication, each of the high-street stationers named above has its own characteristic style – and often a distinct sense of humour. Their success has been attributed to this ‘cult of personality.’ When we want to express something important, these brands help us say it in a way that truly stands out.
Daniel Post Senning of the Emily Post Institute, which promotes etiquette in the modern world, summarises: “Figuring out a way to make a message special will never go out of fashion.”
Looking for a way to express how you really feel? Perhaps you should write it down.