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Online greeting sites grow lovesick

Electronic greeting card sites including Hallmark.com and AmericanGreetings.com are stopped in the name of love by a crush of Valentine's Day traffic.

Forget roses. Where's the e-greeting?

Electronic greeting card sites including Hallmark.com and AmericanGreetings.com have been crushed by traffic on this Valentine's Day morning.

Politely, Hallmark.com has an apology note posted on its site, telling would-be sweethearts that the site is "brimming over with Valentine's Day shoppers."

"Please try again shortly; as they check out, you'll get right in," the page reads.

AmericanGreetings, the exclusive greeting card service to the nearly 60 million subscribers of AOL Time Warner-owned America Online, has had hardships of a more subtle nature in handling a deluge of traffic over the last several days. The site has gone to mush intermittently under "a few peak loads that have tipped it over," AmericanGreetings spokeswoman Nancy Davis said. "It is our biggest day of the year."

Egreetings.com was also not available to Web surfers early Wednesday. The company could not immediately be reached for comment.

The failings at these sites continue a heartbreaking tradition for online businesses, which often find it difficult to meet traffic and delivery demands during holidays. Last year, flower and candy retailers and electronic greeting card companies struggled to process orders or deliver goods in time for Valentine's Day.

Tony Carreon, a software developer in Dallas, said he has tried several sites, including Hallmark.com, AmericanGreetings.com and Blue Mountain Arts, to send a last-minute missive to a friend, without luck.

"I'll keep trying. But if worst comes to worse, I'll stop at a store on the way home," Carreon said.

Most of such greeting sites let consumers send free electronic cards, an almost effortless and attractive alternative to buying a $2 card at a store. However, the greetings are often timed to be sent the day requests are made, causing a flood of visitors to sites all at once.

Kathi Mishak, a Hallmark.com spokeswoman, said this is the reason for the problems at the site, which has been unavailable since 7:50 a.m. PST.

"There's been a huge spike in traffic, and we've had to adjust our systems," she said. "Our tech folks are working on it frantically."

Hallmark.com, which sells gifts and flowers online, suggests alternate destinations for consumers, including partner sites GiftCert.com, RedEnvelope.com and Cheryl&Co.

Amorists have been creating between 200 and 250 cards per second on the Blue Mountain site Wednesday, according to Mark Rinella, vice president and general manager of the Excite@Home-owned company. He said between 8 million and 10 million cards were sent from the site Tuesday, "maxing out" its connections. He expects another 14.2 million cards to be sent Wednesday.

"It's fun; it's nerve-racking. The good news is the site is up and running. There might be a slight delay for users, but they will get their cards," Rinella said.