Oct 30, 2022 - Economy

The rules have changed around handwritten "thank you" cards

Illustration of a directions showing how to fold a greeting card into a paper airplane

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

People are ditching physical “thank you” cards in favor of alternative ways of expressing appreciation — a convenience for some recipients, a shameful breach of etiquette to others.

Why it matters: These kinds of changes in how we communicate can reshape the contours of our personal, professional and transactional relationships.

State of play: If Axios journalists are any indication, a lot fewer people feel obligated to send a handwritten thanks after receiving gifts for celebratory occasions such as weddings, baby showers and birthdays.

  • Let’s just say we recently had a spirited newsroom discussion about whether such things are still necessary.

What they’re saying: “Like your colleagues are saying, it's hard work to go and find a card, write it, go and find a stamp,” Emily West, a University of Massachusetts Amherst communications professor who’s studied greeting cards, tells Axios. “It’s like, who has stamps?”

The big picture: The decline of “thank you” cards goes hand-in-hand with a structural decline in greeting cards.

  • Revenue in the greeting card industry is down 16% since 2017, according to a 2022 report by research firm IBISWorld, which notes that "the practice of writing 'thank you' notes and event invitations has largely fallen out of style in younger generations, who favor e-vites and direct messaging,"
  • In recent years, retailers such as CVS and Walmart have reduced floor space devoted to greeting cards. And card sellers Papyrus and Paper Source filed for bankruptcy.

Zoom in: Many people are just fine with the demise of the "thank you" card, such as Tennessee's Krissy, a social media maven who goes by her first name.

  • "'Thank you’ cards require a lot of energy out of people – especially for a wedding. They’ve probably already said ‘thank you’ at the wedding or in some less formal nature, in person or a text message,” Krissy tells Axios.
  • “I don’t need them to spend time or money writing out a handwritten note," she adds. "I understand why it was once a thing. I don’t think it’s necessary anymore.”

The other side: Sometimes a text, a Slack message or a Facebook DM just doesn't cut it, says New York-based Danny Groner, who recently received a “thank you” card from his boss at venture capital firm Forecast Labs.

  • "Getting an unexpected handwritten note waiting for you at your desk for no reason at all just meant a lot to me,” Groner says. “These are the things that stay with you.”
  • And the rise of fancy card makers, such as Lovepop, has turned greeting cards into more of a gift than a note, West says.

Worth noting: In practice, the household duty of dashing out “thank you” cards has typically fallen on women, West notes.

  • Women buy 80% of greeting cards, according to the Greeting Card Association.
  • That may be one reason why “thank you” cards are in decline: Women are likelier to be in the workplace, or are simply rejecting sexist expectations.
  • “The emotional labor of running the household still disproportionately falls on women in heterosexual households,” West says. “Card sending falls into that bucket.”

Our thought bubble: Receiving a “thank you” card is more meaningful than ever, given how unlikely it’s become — but it doesn’t seem reasonable to expect one very often.

  • “There’s just easier ways to do it now,” Krissy says. “There’s a lot more going on. People have a lot more to do in their lives.”
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