Reviews And Approvals

By Sean Gallagher  |  Posted 2003-03-01 Print this article Print

Every year, American Greetings churns out 20,000 new cards to meet every need of "social expression" it can imagine. But the life and death of each of those cards is hardly determined by the pen of an artist and the gut of a chief executive.

- Days 61 to 160">
Reviews And Approvals - Day 61 to Day 160

All American Greetings cards go through a series of approval steps—with the design often being re-routed through the creative department for modifications.

To ensure informed decisions, American Greetings employs focus groups, customer polls and psychologists, who study how people respond to stimuli, such as colors and designs. Such research can help the company understand why candles in a particular card may attract some buyers—and repulse others.

American Greetings, like other consumer goods manufacturers, also analyzes sales and inventory data to see how similar cards have sold. The company has a number of data warehouses that contain histories of cards' sales and related information that can be "sliced and diced" to analyze the cards' performance in stores.

For its own retail stores, the Carlton Cards chains, the company uses the Retail IDEAS suite of "closed-loop" retail management data warehouse software from JDA Software Group. The company also uses retail planning and analysis software from MarketMax to help identify trends and make decisions on which cards are commercially viable. MarketMax's Web-based interface allows American Greetings' managers to look at the sales performance data of each individual card, or categories of cards, from national sales trends all the way down to how many copies of Card 18100-83962 have sold in Evergreen.

While representatives of JDA and MarketMax decline to detail American Greetings' particular use of their products, both systems provide custom information such as regional and product sales reports. These reports are based on data the company collects from stores either through its own merchandisers or data sent directly by retailers. Mostly, American Greetings has to rely on the information provided by merchandisers, though, because retailers do not provide as much detail.

About 10 to 12 weeks into the process, cards such as 18100-83962 pass management muster based on the retail trends and focus groups of the moment. Its design and text—its bits—are shoved down the digital pipeline to prepare for the birth of this "social expression" on paper.

Sean Gallagher is editor of Ziff Davis Internet's enterprise verticals group. Previously, Gallagher was technology editor for Baseline, before joining Ziff Davis, he was editorial director of Fawcette Technical Publications' enterprise developer publications group, and the Labs managing editor of CMP's InformationWeek. A former naval officer and former systems integrator, Gallagher lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.

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