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Free or Paid, Greetings Sites Draw Valentine's Crowd

  |  February 15, 2002   |  Comments

Flowers and greeting cards were popular online choices in the days leading up to Valentine's Day, even though the latter aren't always free these days.

Flowers and greeting cards were popular online choices in the days leading up to Valentine's Day, even though the latter aren't always free these days.

According to Jupiter Media Metrix, unique visitors to American Greetings' sites – including Americangreetings.com, Bluemountain.com and Egreetings.com – declined 10 percent, from 25.5 million in November 2001 to 22.9 million in December 2001. This decline coincided with the company's move in December of 2001 to charge customers $11.95 per year to access and send most of the network's cards.

Not surprisingly, free greeting card providers, such as Yahoo Greetings and Hallmark.com saw their traffic grow significantly over the same period. Yahoo Greetings increased 70 percent, from 5.4 million unique visitors in November 2001 to 9.1 million in December, while Hallmark.com increased 74 percent, from 4.7 million to 8.2 million. The average number of minutes that people spent on Yahoo Greetings and Hallmark.com also increased following American Greetings' fee installment.

While overall traffic to the American Greetings network was down 10 percent in December, Jupiter Media Metrix found that traffic patterns to the network's component sites varied significantly. Bluemountain.com, the largest site within the American Greetings network, declined 22 percent, from 15.9 million visitors to 12.4 million. However, the loss in traffic to the overall American Greetings network was offset by increases to Americangreetings.com and Egreetings.com, which grew two percent to 11.1 million visitors and 74 percent to 5.5 million visitors, respectively.

Although AmericanGreetings made its switch to paid during the holiday season, Valentine's Day figured to provide a major test. According to comScore, the Valentine's Day visitor increase experienced by AmericanGreetings was less than that enjoyed by other sites, but the site still drew nearly 900,000 U.S. visitors on Feb. 13 alone.

Online flower sales also got a big lift from Valentine's Day, with sales for the seven days prior to Valentine's Day totaling $59.3 million, according to comScore. Online flower sales for the week ending Feb. 10 had an increase of 460 percent over the average week in 2001. ComScore is quick to point out, however, that these results are only 2 percent greater than those logged in the same pre-Valentine's Day period in 2001.

Traffic to online flower sites began to rise significantly around Feb. 4, comScore found, but showed no signs of letting up as Feb. 14 approached. 1-800-flowers.com showed the most consistent day-to-day increases the week before Valentine's Day, while flower.com rose quickly to the No. 2 visitor spot.

Although not quite as popular as flower and greeting sites, comScore also found a traffic spike at online jewelry sites. The greatest increases were seen in the week ending Feb. 10 across both pure-play online retailers and those that integrate clicks and bricks. Ashford.com drew 200 percent more traffic (42,000 visitors) on Thursday, Feb. 7 compared to an average day in January. Sites that provided suggestions to last minute online/offline shoppers – such as jewelry.com, zales.com and godiva.com – spiked as late as last Friday and again on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

The week ending Feb. 10 also saw double- and triple-digit gains at sites about Valentine's Day dinners and other entertainment, including food.com.

Sites popular on Valentine's Day have had trouble with their uptime and reliability in recent years, despite somewhat predictable traffic increases centered around one specific day. According to webHancer Corp., both online florists and gift sites performed admirably in the days leading up to Valentine' Day, but online greeting sites had some problems.

WebHancer's data found that 123greetings.com and Hallmark.com were both forced to turn visitors away early on Valentine's Day due to massive volume. Although Hallmark quickly rectified the situation, 123greetings.com continued to experience problems throughout the morning, with the estimated wait time at around 30 minutes, which caused the site's abandon rate to soar to 40.5 percent between 10 and 11 a.m.

In terms of user experience, bluemountain.com beat out the other paid greeting card sites, maintaining an average page load time of 4.9 seconds. Yahoo Greetings, however, scored better, delivering an average page load time of 3.8 seconds, according to webHancer, which is particularly interesting given that Yahoo is a free site allowing unlimited usage to visitors.

Of the online florist and gift sites webHancer evaluated (1800flowers.com, ftd.com, proflowers.com, godiva.com, redenvelope.com, barnesandnoble.com and victoriasecret.com), none experience significant performance or user experience issues leading up to Valentine's Day. Ftd.com's fast page load times (2.3 seconds) and minimal abandon rate (0.3 percent) were tops among the florists, while redenvelope.com was the best performing online gift site, with a page load time of 1.73 seconds and an abandon rate of 0.39 percent.

Top Valentine's Related Sites by Category
Rank Site Unique Visitors
(000)
Feb. 13 Week Ending
Feb. 10
Greetings Cards
1. americangreetings.com 858,418 3,075,760
2. bluemountain.com 720,153 2,008,257
3. hallmark.com 629,400 1,281,914
4. e-cards.com 102,151 219,678
5. marlo.com 84,354 121,285
Flowers
1. 1-800-flowers.com 291,333 867,718
2. flower.com 245,311 368,199
3. proflowers.com 229,900 1,166,858
4. ftd.com 191,211 587,600
5. flowerusa.com 79,632 214,311
Source: comScore

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