Consumers today want a lot more unique features in the greeting cards they send. That puts a lot of pressure on the creative staffs at companies like Hallmark Cards to come up with distinctive products quickly.
The limitations of working with documents and digital files spread across numerous systems and servers previously made it difficult for Hallmark to make changes in the types of paper, designs and other features of its cards. And traditional data systems made it nearly impossible to let customers customize cards and gifts while shopping.
But since using an app created by Hallmark’s research and design team, developed through the use of Apple subsidiary FileMaker, the Kansas City, Mo., company can allow a lot more customization in the products sold in its stores. The custom app allows both designers and nonprofessionals to add elements using simple graphical programming tools.
Customers can insert photos of themselves in cards, create a unique holiday ornament or add voice recognition to a stuffed animal.
The tool is used by a number of retailers to create a multitude of customized applications. At Hallmark, the app accommodates a special customization program at 30 stores. Customers can insert photos of themselves in cards, insert a specific child as a character in a storybook, create a unique holiday ornament or add a voice recognition feature to a stuffed animal.
An iPad in each store lets customers add the features they want; the features are captured on FileMaker and then sent directly to the vendor to build to specification.
The in-store customization feature has been used for about two years and is an extension of an app Hallmark originally developed for in-house designers. The use of FileMaker afforded designers more flexibility; it also connected the new designs to the management inventory system and to vendors, even those located overseas.
“They could develop different and unique content and then the app would collect the materials, schedule the traffic management and integrate to the vendors,” says Andrew LeCates, director of solutions consulting with FileMaker.
Among unique applications Hallmark designers have come up with is changing the graphic design of a card, using different materials or developing three-dimensional cards. “Greeting cards involve such a variety, the designers need to respond to changes quickly and convey to vendors what they want changed,” he says.
Other retailers have used FileMaker to develop store floor plans and content for catalogs, create sale signage, provide inventory management and handle vendor management, among other applications, LeCates says.
He cites one large retailer that uses FileMaker to create fashion catalogs and point-of-sale materials. That platform uses an iPad app created with FileMaker that also allows customers to locate items that are not in stock in a particular store. Data from the product searches are sent to the corporate office; reports can be made from this information so that the chain can manage its inventory better, LeCates says.
“This helps the store salesperson, so they know if they have an item or not and if not, how to get it,” he says.
Other retailers have used the app to identify customer locations to send special promotions via customers’ cell phones. Others have customized the look of catalogs for various regions where they have stores.
“FileMaker allows customized apps to be developed by regular employees,” LeCates says. “The focus is on mobility, which makes a lot of sense in retail.”