December 27, 2000
E-cards represent diversity
Wishing someone happy holidays electronically now means more than just a Merry Christmas. It goes beyond even a Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanzaa.
It means Feliz Navidad for Latinos or Froehliche Weihnacten for Germans. It means Selamat Hari Raya for a Malaysian holiday of fasting. Or Eid Mubarak for a Muslim day of fast-breaking.
The days after Christmas bring no less seasonal cheer for countless ethnic groups -- and, therefore, no less reason to click a quick online greeting card to friends and family. Even as e-greeting companies hit their peaks this holiday season, they talk about how to take their cards beyond the traditional American into foreign tradition.
Already, this time of year, cards for Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Ramadan take up as much space on e-card home pages as the once-almighty Christmas. And even among those Christmas card choices, animated characters sing out in other languages, from German to Japanese.
When companies stretch their products to fit folks in every continent, that opens the door to millions more customers.
"You have to constantly be looking at the demographics of people using the Web," said Londonne E. Corder, spokeswoman for BlueMountain.com, a division of Excite@Home that's based in Redwood City, Calif. Blue Mountain rolled out six new languages last year and many new holidays this year.
"The best way to send a personal greeting is to be as relevant as possible," Corder said.
Most e-greeting businesses opened in the mid-1990s. Several admit to embarking on the World Wide Web with primarily American- or Christian-themed offerings, including top favorites Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day and Mother's Day.
Slowly, in some cases in the past year, ethnicity has entered the scene.
"I think it's rather new," said Jane Jung, manager of communications for Jupiter Media Metrix in New York. "When e-cards first came out, I don't think the first thing on their minds was to come out with cards for Kwanzaa and Japanese New Year."
Now, Web surfers can find greeting cards for several New Years that don't begin on Jan. 1. They can click on Independence Day regards hailing from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. They can scan through blessed days that fall several pages before December on the calendar.
They can send cards that pay homage to Allah or Buddha or Confucius. They can scroll through the wise words of Guru Nanak in Sikhism, Baha'u'llah in Baha'ism and the Guardian Kami in Shintoism. They can catch the Chinese horoscope, I-Ching and the Tao or Hindu Om symbols.
A holiday card that paints Santa Claus and a rabbi sledding down a steep hill, above the words "Happy Whichever" lies in BlueMountain.com's menu, showing a spread of the interfaith community.
Images of Ganesh, a Hindu god, and a moonlit mosque sit next to Christian angels and sacred blessings on Egreetings.com's page of most popular religious cards. One of 123greetings.com Inc.'s all-time top cards for the month celebrates Ramadan, a monthlong Muslim holiday.
And a surprise holiday hit this fall was Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights that represents the New Year. On Hallmark's Web site, it earned more than 500,000 e-cards, more than Father's Day. People clicked on 123greetings.com's Diwali cards almost as many times, making up half the total traffic for Christmas, still every site's top holiday pick of the year.
"Anyone connected to the Internet should be able to send a greeting card, no matter the country or religion," said Vivek J. Agarwal, CEO of 123greetings.com, based in Great Neck, N.Y. "Our plans are to have cards in every country."
Finding these holidays, from Canadian Thanksgiving to British Boxing Day, falls mostly on research teams of 40 or 50, who spend their days scouring the Internet and almanacs. Some companies employ residents of countries their cards represent to help suggest images or music that can accompany the words.
Other prompting comes from the folks who actually use the cards.
"We'll create a card if there's enough consumer demand," said Kathi Mishek, Hallmark spokeswoman. "We get more than 3 million e-mails a year. And a vast majority of them are suggestions."
Leaders of HamptonRoads.com, which took a baby step into the e-card sector with its Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Christmas selections this month, will even approach local groups that perform religious services for ideas.
"The goal of our site is really to touch everybody in the region we can," said Jon A. Kranz, senior online producer for HamptonRoads.com, run by The Virginian-Pilot's Interactive Media division. "With a little bit more digging and a little more work on our part, we can make it happen."
Forecasts for this niche of the online card-trading market reach into even further foreign shores. Agarwal, of 123greeting.com, said his company will offer more languages next quarter, while other players journey on in the quest for more ethnic occasions -- ones to complement the growing list of lighter-side holidays celebrating everything from popcorn to pumpkin pie, cookie cutters to candy canes.
And for those carpal-tunneled out from sending e-card after e-card can relax. Holiday Breather Day is Thursday.
Reach Vandana Sinha at firstname.lastname@example.org or 446-2318.
©Copyright 2000, The Virginian-Pilot