Greeting Card Companies Stumble in Valentine's Test

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Several online greeting card companies suffered major delays on Valentine's Day, blocking their ability to deliver e-mail Valentine greetings.

Blue Mountain Arts, and all experienced long delays and sporadic outages in service while processing a flood of online greeting card orders. Even after Feb.14, Hallmark experienced record requests. A message from Hallmark told customers to try their requests later because the site was "very busy" filling orders. A Hallmark representative said the site was slow but could provide no further details. A message on read: "Due to unprecedented numbers of people sending Egreetings right now, our system is very busy filling orders. Please try again in a few minutes."

An online greeting card is sent by visiting one of the electronic greeting card Web sites, choosing a card-which can include animation, music, or a more traditional look-and plugging in the recipient's e-mail. On a normal day, an online greeting card should arrive at its destination in a matter of minutes. But several of the greeting card companies acknowledged that cards ordered on Valentine's Day may not have arrived until the next day.

Industry analysts say the Valentine's delays and outages are the latest examples of online companies unprepared for spikes in customer traffic. During the holiday crush, Web giants and experienced long service delays.

"You have to be a little forgiving, only because every year it's uncharted territory," said Carrie Johnson of Forrester Research, a Cambridge, MA research firm. "For some of these retailers, it was probably the biggest day they've had in history."

According to Nielsen/NetRatings, saw online greeting card requests jump from 742,390 on Valentine's day last year, to 3.5 million this year, a 371 percent increase. and also reported huge increases in customer traffic from the previous year.

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