Electronic greetings, or e-cards, have come a long way since their debut as one-dimensional postcards and now can include animation, slideshows and personal narration.
These digital creations save forgetful friends who don’t think far enough in advance to buy and send snail-mail cards. However, even the hippest e-cards, such as customizable cartoons from political parody site JibJab.com, are no match for paper cards with thoughtfully penned sentiments.
Jack Cards offers to send you unique cards in time for you to personalize and mail them.
Rather than fight the ever-popular, old-school cards, the digital world is trying to improve the way people buy and send those cards. This week I tested a Web site called www.jackcards.com, which sends email reminders a month before important dates and offers to ship paper cards one, two, or four weeks before an event. The cards can arrive pre-stamped and pre-addressed, so you need only add your own hand-written message before dropping them in the mail.
Jack Cards LLC of Boston based its business after the notion that an imaginary correspondence butler named “Jack” could take care of you, making you look like the friend/spouse/relative/boss of the year. Its cards range from $1.50 to $6 each, plus the cost of a stamp if you opt to get the card pre-stamped; U.S. shipping is free throughout December.
My primary skepticism about Jack Cards was its content: Did it offer enough variety to justify buying cards without seeing them? Would its cards be funny enough to send my uncle into a fit of laughter? And would they be like the tear-jerkers best friends see in stores and buy for one another for no reason?
Jack Cards prides itself on unique offerings that can’t be found in the local drugstore, and I found that its cards fit the bill for many occasions. It’s worth noting the cards looked even better in person, created by about 40 designers who left me both scratching my head over some of their humor and cooing over their beautiful designs. But the functionality of the site needs to improve, especially in the way it helps users search through cards; too often, results were hit and miss. And it doesn’t incorporate enough rich Web 2.0 features, which could improve navigation on the site and be a real boon for looking at cards (imagine an inset animation of a card opening and revealing its message inside).
Predictably, Hallmark Cards Inc. isn’t sitting idly by as a start-up tries to steals its thunder. Its Web site, Hallmark.com, sells paper cards in addition to e-cards and it, too, can remind you of coming events. Its way of personalizing cards is to send them directly to recipients with a message typed inside — a method that isn’t as personal. Like Jack Cards, Hallmark offers to mail cards to buyers to send out but doesn’t pre-stamp or pre-address anything.
Hallmark also differs from Jack Cards in the shipping department. A $2.99 birthday card from Hallmark.com cost $2.95 to be shipped to me — and wouldn’t arrive at my door for five business days. The free shipping offer from Jack Cards will end in January, but the company normally charges 99 cents for two- to three-day shipping; this flat fee applies to a package filled with any number of cards.
Without signing in, anyone can browse through the more than 1,000 cards on JackCards.com. Those interested in joining the site can do so for free after entering a name, password, email and birthday. Members are asked to enter a list of the “Fast Five” — people with whom they most often correspond, such as parents, siblings, best friends or close colleagues.
Each of the Fast Five is set up with a name, address and list of events that correspond to the person; I listed my parents with their anniversary, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, birthdays and Christmas. I was a little stunned to find an event titled “Will You Marry Me?” but I suppose Jack Cards thought of everything.
The site could stand to be better organized. The page filled with data on each of my Fast Five seemed jumbled, and jumping from one contact to another wasn’t as easy as it should be. Hyperlinks beside the events I entered for these people directed me to a general browsing page for cards instead of to a page specifically related to an event. These extra steps gave the page a clumsy feel.
Drop-down search toolbars let you choose the occasion, style of card (Humor, Just For Kids, Romantic etc.), recipient and designer. Each card’s front and inside messages, size and paper color are identified as you move your cursor over them.
I was stunned by some of the Mother-specific birthday cards. None of the cards said “Happy Birthday, Mom,” which was a problem because without that, the cards all seemed ambiguous. A card in this search said, “You are going to cherish this birthday card years from now. Cuz who knows if I’ll remember your birthday again. Happy Birthday.” I can’t think of anyone who would give such a card to a mother. The company continues to improve its searching to be more accurate.
But Jack Cards did introduce me to some clever and original material that I never would’ve seen in my CVS. Beautifully colorful cards made by Masha D’yans caught my eye immediately and looked more like watercolor paintings than cards.
I bought a good variety of about 25 cards and had them sent to me, some stamped and pre-labeled with my return address and the recipient’s address typed in attractive script, others without any stamp or label. Square cards cost more to mail (58 cents compared with 41 cents), but Jack Cards will give you the appropriate stamp. The weight and quality of the cards, along with their artistic attributes, made them feel more special than something that has been picked up from a shelf and opened by a hundred passersby. Many cards were individually packaged in plastic wrappers to stay clean en route.
If Jack Cards can continue to work on its site’s navigation and search functions, I think its system would be welcomed by many people looking for good-quality, well-designed cards that catch the eye. It saves users the hassle of last-minute trips to the card store, and still lets greeting cards keep their personal touch, which is what makes them such a permanent fixture in our lives.