by Patricia Riedman
Joining other merchants that are jumping on the Web in time for Christmas, American Greetings Corp. and Hallmark Cards will introduce new online initiatives this week.
Today Yahoo! officially launches a partnership with Hallmark electronic greetings through its Yahoo! Mail free e-mail service and Yahoo! People Search. The Hallmark name and logo are integrated into the Yahoo! e-mail product, providing a direct link to the greeting card company's store Hallmarkconnections.com. At the site, users can choose from 1,000 free electronic greetings. Hallmark also sells about 700 digital greetings on its site, which are priced between $1.99 and $2.99 depending on the level of animation. Hallmark also sells gifts and chocolates on its site, but wasn't ready to disclose sales figures.
DRAWING PEOPLE TO THE SITE
"We're offering these free greetings to draw people to our Web store," said a spokeswoman for Hallmarkconnections.com, which launched in November. The site has similar distribution deals with Wire Networks, publisher of Women's Wire, and mature market site ThirdAge.com.
Media Synergy, Toronto, developed Hallmark's Player software, which enables users with varying operating systems to download and play the e-greetings. While Hallmark has offered electronic greetings for sale on CompuServe since the mid-'80s, and has a presence in America Online's mall area, the Hallmarkconnections.com spokeswoman said, "This is the first year we're getting knee-deep into the Web."
Also this week, Online Greetings from American Greetings goes live on AOL, offering 2,000 postcard-style cards for sale, and an undetermined number of animated cards, powered by AOL's new proprietary Slideshow technology. The site was previously called AOL's Card-o-Matic store. In October American Greetings paid $3 million and signed a three-year, multimillion-dollar agreement to develop its e-greetings business on AOL. American Greetings also sells 1,600 card designs available at its site (americangreetings.com), according to Jill Froula, manager of marketing communications for the electronic group at American Greetings.
But unlike Hallmark, American Greetings charges for most of its cards. For instance, it's offering a holiday value pack of 20 electronic cards for $14.95 or 10 cards for $9.95, and $1.95 for animated greetings. The site also sells chocolates, flowers and gifts.
"We think that if you see the difference between the free cards and the animated greetings there's a whole world of difference," Ms. Froula said.
FREEBIES VS. SALES
Charging for something that's available for free and easily accessible elsewhere on the Web will be difficult though, said Nicole Vanderbilt, group director-digital commerce at Jupiter Communications, New York.
However she adds, "What American Greetings and Hallmark have going for them is the dollars to pay for primary online real estate on sites and services, such as AOL and Yahoo!"
Jupiter expects the e-commerce market for specialty gifts, which includes flowers, gourmet food, wine, gift baskets and greeting cards, will grow to $219 million in 1998, and a projected $1.4 million by 2002.
There's also a half dozen Web sites that have emerged such as Greet Street to sell electronic greetings and compete with American Greetings and Hallmark.
Copyright December 1997, Crain Communications Inc.