‘Digital fatigue’ boosts stationery sales

By Olivia Hosken for Town & Country 

In 1995 e-mail went mainstream. In 2009, Paperless Post, one of the first leading digital “stationery” brands, was founded. And for nearly 30 years each new innovation has left us asking—is this the end of stationery?

Then, in January, the formerly ubiquitous card store Papyrus declared bankruptcy followed by sweeping layoffs at Crane & Co. in March. However, with everyone sheltering in place, stationery is more popular than it has been in a long time.

Andrea Bell, director of insights at trend forecasting company WGSN, says that she and her colleagues began tracking the rise of stationery in 2018, and have been following it closely in the past few weeks. Stationery brand Papier experienced a 300% increase of online sales, and Google Trends reported that there was a 180% increase in the search term “what to write in a ‘thinking of you’ card?”

“Everyone is experiencing digital fatigue—which is real—so we are turning to tangible things.” Bell says. “And we have more time on our hands than ever before. We are experiencing moments of self-reflection and quiet, and for many, using that time to send a card or letter feels like the right thing to do.”

According to Dr. Priya Raghubir, a professor of business at New York University, the reason why it feels “right” boils down to simple psychology—and the hierarchy of human needs. “At the bottom are very basic needs: food, water, sleep. The next level is safety, then social needs, followed by esteem and self-actualization,” she says. “In most advanced Western economies, the basic needs of most people are met. But when anything unsettles, like the pandemic, we obsess over the basics and tend to do things like stockpile food and toilet paper. After the immediate threat is assuaged, we begin to ascend the hierarchy again. Now we want to socialize—sending cards and letters help us form connections.”

Along with sending cards and letters, journaling has become a major pastime over the past few months, across all age groups and demographics. Notebooks and pens are considered part of the stationery category and sales for those items can explain some of the sales. People are also returning to paper calendars. “Work-life balance is being expressed by paper,” Bell says. “Work is digital and personal affairs are put on paper, it helps create a boundary between the two while giving us a feeling of certainty in uncertain times.”

These new habits are likely to stay with us, Dr. Raghubir predicts, even as life resumes normalcy. “We’ve experienced the joys in things like dressing more comfortably and working from home, I would expect that we will see these things continue.”

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