The business card is back, sort of

From time to time people say unexpected things in the comments section below this column, but one remark stood out the other day. It came from a reader demanding that something be done about the bad state of the business card.

“I’m sick of being given all kinds of excuses by younger professionals at meetings why they don’t have a card to give me,” this person fumed. “I’m just saying, if you want me to remember that you were at this meeting, you can give me a card: otherwise, in a week, when I look at my cards from this trip, you will have ceased to exist.

“What’s up with these sheep slobs? Why don’t their bosses insist? Why didn’t their parents teach them?’

Ugh, I thought. Thank God I don’t meet such people in my daily work. Except I do.

A week later, I went to a business conference where, as usual, I arrived without one of the hundreds of business cards that had been sitting in my desk drawer since the pandemic broke out.

This seemed to them a good place to stay. Long before the pandemic, it felt like the use of cards was disappearing in the age of LinkedIn and airdropping. Just because physical mixing is back, did people really want to go back to exchanging germ-laden cardboard data that took hours of tedious labor to enter into the phone at home?

As it turned out, they did a lot at this conference. Every second person there was waving a business card. men. Women. Young. Old Everyone seemed to have one but me. On the third or fourth time I feebly apologized for not having a card, a middle-aged man curtly asked, “Why not?”

It was a shame that another slightly older (and more famous) man didn’t leave his cards at home. I watched for a while as he thrust one after another into the arm of every man he met, but failed to propose to any woman he was introduced to, no matter how high-ranking she was.

So the business card is back? Yes and no.

As the pandemic eases, sales are recovering at Vista, the parent of VistaPrint, one of the world’s largest makers of traditional business cards.

Business card revenue was up 10 percent in the year to June 30, the company told me last week. But one particular type of product is really booming: QR code cards or some other type of technology that allows you to digitally download contact information.

“When we introduced digital business cards—physical cards with a digital element—in April, it became our fastest-growing new product introduction in the category, and we expect continued growth,” said Emily Whittaker, Vista’s executive vice president of commerce.

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The trend was evident at the conference I went to, where in the middle of another round of handing out cards, a man waved his iPhone at me and said, “Point your camera at this.” A QR code, once scanned, instantly sent his contact details in my phone’s address book.

Another person took a hybrid approach, waving a bamboo card with a QR code printed on the back, which she kept after others clicked it.

Clearly, the advancing army of technology is transforming the business card. These include NFC, or near field communication, chips that people put on their phones or, in one (hopefully rare) case, implant in their hands.

I’m not sure what an outraged FT reader would make of this change, but personally I’m hooked.

I like the physical security of a printed card, and it’s true that when I got home, the cards reminded me of who I’d met more than the invisibly transferred phone data. Dead batteries can be a problem for the QR clan as well.

But after spending hours of my working life transferring fine-printed contact details to my phone and dealing with camera apps that promise to do the same but rarely do, it’s blissful to have someone’s details instantly jump onto your list of contacts.

I think the nice printed FT cards sitting on my desk will last a very long time indeed.

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