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Greetings Made Easy: Card Company Goes On-Line

IT may be a familiar scene: You're in a drugstore, card shop, or local Wal-Mart store. You're looking for that perfect card for your mother, cousin, or coworker. Nothing quite fits the bill.

But what if you didn't have to leave home to find a card? What if you could send one that said exactly what you wanted it to? Is your only option to find some paper and crayons and start drawing?

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Not if one company has its way. Last month, American Greetings Corporation, the Cleveland-based card company, teamed up on an experimental basis with Prodigy Services Co., the giant on-line service. Prodigy already offers greeting cards that on-line users can send one another. What American Greetings provides is expertise in art, verse, and animation.

Once it gets back the results of the Prodigy test and has concluded negotiations with other on-line services, American Greetings says it will launch a line of electronic cards that customers can create and send using personal computers.

American Greetings wants to get in on the ground floor but realizes that the competition will be tough, says John Barker, a company spokesman. Hallmark Cards Inc., American Greetings' biggest competitor, also has been conducting tests with a number of on-line services, a spokeswoman there says.

In June, American Greetings appointed Dean Trilling, chief of its information services division, to head up a new interactive marketing division. ``The group will be dedicated full-time to the [electronic] business,'' Mr. Barker says. ``Interactive marketing is the second phase of our high-tech push.''

American Greetings has already had a taste of success with interactive, computerized greeting cards. In the past year and a half, the company has generated $35 million in revenues from a concept called ``CreataCard,'' Barker says.

CreataCard video touch screens display art and verse options; consumers can choose from 1,000 different designs and verses or write one themselves. Once the selection is made, the card is printed out.

``When we launched Creatacard, we had no real business plan you could follow,'' Barker says. ``We started from scratch and planned to set up 3,000 [electronic] kiosks in retail stores. The demand was so strong, we ended up placing 9,000.''

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Nine out of 10 traditional greeting cards are purchased by women, Barker says. Company research reveals, however, that 30 to 40 percent of electronic card purchases are made by men.

``The whole equation has changed,'' Barker says. ``Men are attracted to it, probably because of the technology involved. And younger consumers find it interesting because they are more in tune with computers. It's a generational shift.''

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