Pete Burro, of Brigantine, likes to mark the holidays in a traditional sort of way.

So, as Thanksgiving approached, Burro stopped at Joelle’s Card & Gift Boutique in Linwood to pick up at least six Thanksgiving Day cards for family members. Burro thinks it’s important his four adult children receive a tangible reminder in their mailbox that he’s thinking of them.

Such a notion, however, has been fading in recent years with the growth of emails, Facebook postings and instant messaging. Those electronic methods of wishing friends a happy birthday or merry Christmas are having both a social and a financial impact.

People purchased a little over 6 billion cards a year in the mid-2000s, said Linda Odell of Hallmark Public Relations. The amount dropped to between 5.5 and 6 billion in 2007 through 2009. Since then, the annual sales have been a little over 5 billion annually, Odell said.

The U.S. Post Office also reports a decrease in greeting cards sent by first class mail during the last decade, from 3.81 billion in 2000 to 3.3 billion in 2010.

Hallmark counts all cards purchased while the post office only considers cards sent by first-class mail, which accounts for the post office’s overall smaller numbers compared to the Hallmark estimates.

Social media isn’t the only threat to greeting card manufacturers, said Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, and lead researcher in a new study planned on the greeting card, stationery and paper products market. Unity Marketing, based in Stevens, Pa., is a company that specializes in providing insights into the mind of the affluent customer.

“Mass marketers, like Hallmark and American Greetings, are challenged by an increased segmentation of the card customers. With less interest in mass-oriented products, demand is growing for more specialty greetings and papers that, while more expensive, also are more expressive of people’s individual emotions,” Danziger said.

Greeting card companies are fighting back with such new advances as digital distribution, which allows paper card-sending from mobile devices and personal computers.

For instance, the American Greetings Cards company offers a website, www.justwink.com, and an app that allow cards to be sent via text message, Facebook and email. The app can deliver the card through regular mail. The app also helps the person find the perfect card, add their own words, stick a photo on it and finger pen a signature.

The biggest boost the industry receives, however, is from people, such as Burro, who still love to buy greeting cards.

Holidays aren’t the only time of year Burro hits the card stores. He buys his girlfriend a card for every day he is away when he flies out of town to see the San Francisco 49ers football team play. He buys the cards ahead of time at Joelle’s and leaves them behind for her to open.

“I attend 10 49ers games a year,” said Burro, 62. “For 14 years, I’ve been doing that. The trick is not to get the same card twice.”

Sending lots of cards doesn’t mean he’s on the receiving end of lots of special mail. Burro said he receives cards from only his four adult children on holidays. His girlfriend comes through with a card on his birthday.

The greeting card industry has been able to hold its own even as use has declined over the years.

While greeting card sales have fluctated over the past several years, the industry continues to generate annual revenues of $7 billion to $8 billion, said Patti Stracher, executive vice president of the Greeting Card Association.

One way the greeting card industry has been able to keep revenue flowing while unit sales have been unstable is that part of the market is dedicated to greeting cards that are a little more expensive. Papyrus cards cost 50 cents or $1 more than traditional cards, but they are more embellished than a typical greeting card.

Gail Rosenthal, co-owner of Joelle’s with her husband, Bob, said her greeting cards are an attraction that brings people in because she has a variety of them, including papyrus. While sales might be decreasing elsewhere, Rosenthal said she’s not seeing that at her store.

“Fifity percent of our business is greeting cards,” Gail Rosenthal said. “Sales are up from last year. Most people still like cards.”

Joyce Mordecai, of Margate, said she buys greeting cards for everyone who means something to her, including family and friends. This is the time of year to let people know that they are being thought of, Mordecai said.

“Birthday card, new baby card, anniversary, I’m buying at least eight cards. I could buy more. I like to have them in the house. I like the blanks. I write my own words. I make original cards by using the face of one and the inside of another,” said Mordecai, the mother of two adult children. “I don’t do greetings online. I still prefer handwritten cards. I feel people still enjoy receiving letters and notes written with feeling in a card.”

Billions of cards are still sold annually even though the use of digital tools has boomed, Hallmark said. Five billion cards sold in a year translates to more than 13 million cards sold a day over the course of a year, Odell said.

“Greeting cards are obviously central to our business and always will be, and defining our brand as one that helps people make emotional connections gives us lots of room for innovation and growth on greeting cards and multiple product areas,” Odell said.

Hallmark offers online and mobile options, Odell said. The company has offered e-cards for more than a decade. For several years, consumers have had the option of personalizing cards with their own words and photos through hallmark.com. (CQ)Earlier this year, the company introduced a mobile greeting card app for personalized print-on-demand cards.

Rebecca Harlan, of Ventor, was recently out shopping for Thanksgiving cards. The retiree sees cards as a way to acknowledge family and friends whom she feels close to, even if they live far way. But cards aren’t the only way she keeps in touch. Harlan also uses Facebook and animated electronic greetings to send greetings and acknowledge special events. Some people receive both a paper card and an e-card from her. Taking advantage of multiple ways to send greetings does have its advantages, she said

“On my birthday, I’m overwhelmed by the cards. ... There is nothing better than getting a real card in the mailbox,” Harlan said.

Contact Vincent Jackson:

609-272-7202