Manchester Christmas card sales in crisis

By Monica Eden

How many Christmas cards have you sent out this year? 20, 30, 40? or none at all?

Increasingly in the North West and across Britain there is ambivalence towards Christmas cards but what if they were to become extinct?

Shockingly this could be the case in our lifetime according to recent research.

Mintel’s findings showed that 75% of UK homes sent a Christmas card in 2009, compared with 84% in 2006.

Another study by YouGov for Oxfam reveals a similar trend. Christmas card sales in Oxfam’s UK charity shops slipped by 14% last year.

An Oxfam spokesman said: “The charity still sells a huge number of cards and we are very grateful to our customers for their support, however, the number is sadly falling.

“We expect that this year 141 million less cards will be sent across the U.K, we have no definite answers as to why this is but I think that problems with the economy and postal service as well as the popularity of E-cards could be to blame.”

At a time when most families are cutting back expensive Christmas cards could well be for the chop, but there are cheaper alternatives that people can take advantage of rather than sending none at all.

However, one thing that people cannot find cheaper elsewhere is stamps to post their cards out with.

On the 17th December Royal Mail announced stamp price increases of 5p on first class stamps and 4p on second class ones.

Philip Cullum, Deputy Chief Executive of Consumer Focus criticised the move.

He said: “This latest increase in stamp prices could add at least £30million to the cost of people’s Christmas post next year.

Consumers will be extremely disappointed by the latest inflation busting increase given that stamp prices having gone up at double the rate of inflation over the last five years.”

But are consumers even receiving a reliable service for this increasing cost?

Manchester shopper Cathy Edwards said: “The post is so unreliable these days who knows if your family will even receive your cards.

“Last year I had problems with my post during the bad weather so this year I wrote out less and gave them out in person to save any hassle.”

Royal Mail has this month pledged to do better and drafted in an extra 3,000 temps, to add to the 20,000 that they had originally taken on, at the cost of £20m.

Managing Director of Royal Mail Mark Higson said: “We’re pulling out all the stops.”

Royal Mail even sent out 6,500 posties on Sunday, making deliveries to around a million addresses, to clear the backlog caused by poor weather.

Whilst E-cards are a reliable alternative many argue that they are cold and lack effort.

However, in our modern world Christmas messages online and through sites such as Facebook certainly makes sense when contacting far away friends and relatives.

Hallmark, a world leader in card sales, disagrees with the notion of E-cards taking over from traditional Christmas cards.

They offer free and chargeable E-cards but have seen a downturn in the amount of people using them with online cards only accounting for 1% of the market share.

Spokeswoman Deidre Mize said: “The economic downturn has had an impact on our economy; they are sending a few less cards in order to save some money.

“What they aren’t doing is trading off paper-card sending for other forms of digital communication like e-cards.”

Christmas cards are actually a relatively new idea in historical terms. Whilst wood engravers produced prints with religious themes in the European Middle Ages, the first Christmas card was designed by John Callcott Horsley in England in 1843 for his friend Sir Henry Cole.

Only 1,000 of these cards went on sale with their popularity only increasing years later.

Three of these cards were recently put up for auction at Sotheby’s in New York and they are each expected to fetch between £4,500 and £10,000.

So if Britons invented the Christmas card then surely we should be the ones to honour the tradition.

Many people across the North West and the whole of the UK do still embrace the Christmas card culture.

Manchester Clinton Cards sales assistant Natalie Adams agrees.

She said: “People still love Christmas cards, this year we have been rushed off our feet as usual.

“Christmas cards have been flying off the shelves; we have especially seen a demand for more value packs of cards so people are trying to cut back.”

So consumers are still buying cards but perhaps not on the same level as previous years.

This is a shame the Christmas spirit is spread through cards and the well meaning messages they deliver.

It seems that in these increasingly commercial Christmas’ a simple card has lost its meaning.

The focus of Christmas is no longer on the birth of Christ, appreciating our lives and giving to those less needy than ourselves.

Nowadays we prefer to frolic in the mass hysteria of Christmas shopping to the point where even the goldfish receive an exquisitely wrapped gift.

Because of this the Christmas card has been devalued and replaced by meaningless, generic gifts.

In these times of economic hardship surely it makes more sense to strip back Christmas.

If people appreciated cards more there would be less expectation of presents and we could all save ourselves some money.

So this Christmas take five minutes away from the bustle of Oxford Street or the Trafford Centre to tell someone special that you are thinking about them this Christmas with a handwritten card that I am sure will be greatly appreciated.

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