Sales from digital gift cards are projected to hit nearly $700bn in global sales by 2024 – if you’re a retailer, it’s an area you simply can’t afford to avoid or get wrong, especially since 72 percent of retailers now spend more than the value of their card.
However, while gift cards present unique opportunities, they also present some unique challenges.
The gift card space has evolved considerably due to improvements in technology: they’re used both online and offline, and it’s become easier for brands of all shapes and sizes to operate gift card programs. There’s a real need to differentiate and provide a gift card experience that’s a cut above the rest.
If you’re running a retail business, you might well be asking: how do I go about building a modern gift card program that delivers real benefits to both the brand and its customers?
Make it easy to purchase and redeem
Great Customer Experience is all about cohesion. If you experienced an issue buying something in-store and an advisor was unable to help you resolve it online, then it would present a problem, wouldn’t it? It’s the same with gift cards – they need to be easy to buy and redeem across all different online and offline channels.
When your customer buys a gift card in-store, they should be able to use it online – and when they buy it online, they should be able to use it in-store. If they can’t use it in the way they prefer, they’ll rightly wonder what the point of buying it at all is – damaging their experience and your brand reputation.
Some brands still rely exclusively on physical gift cards and don’t have any kind of digital equivalent, which can be an immediate turn-off for customers. Others run disparate online and offline gift cards that aren’t compatible with one another – a situation that’s common even for more established brands.
So, make sure your provider unites the offline and online experience. Work to migrate separate programs into one distinct program, ensure it converts all kinds of currency if you operate locations globally, and make sure gift cards are clearly available to purchase on your e-commerce platform, as well as from any resellers, such as department stores. You can even distribute them to some businesses to use as a corporate incentive.
The idea is to make your gift cards available across every possible commercial touchpoint: to create a true multichannel gift card program.
Make it global
Ever get annoyed when a much-anticipated film or TV is released in the US – and only released in the UK a week, a month, or even a year later? It’s really annoying, both because you don’t get to watch what you want to watch and because it makes you feel like there are two tiers of viewer: the one in the home market, and the one in the less-valuable foreign market.
The same thing applies to gift cards. If you’re a large international retailer, a hotelier, or a restaurant chain, you need to make sure your gift card program is scalable all over the world rather than restricted by geography. You shouldn’t ever be in a situation where you’re setting up specific programs for specific countries – the same experience, in the preferred language and the preferred currency, should be available to all.
A customer who uses your service in Boston, a customer who uses your service in Berlin, and a customer who flits between the two, should all be able to buy and use gift cards seamlessly.
Make it sustainable
Sustainability is a big draw for modern-day customers – and many gift card programs are heavily reliant on plastic.
You can make these programs more sustainable by using an eco-card, which has all the advantages of a standard plastic gift card, but is made using substantially ‘greener’ techniques. These cards can be made of recycled PVC, corn-based plastic, or paper stock, and their carriers can be made of soy-based inks or recycled materials. It’s also worth making sure you shred and recycle all deactivated cards.
Plastic waste is a significant issue in the modern world, and a more sustainable approach can not only reduce your environmental impact, but also boost your brand’s reputation.
Make it easy to integrate
Does your gift card program fit in with your electronic point-of-sale (EPOS) system and e-commerce sites, or is it tethered more loosely? The more tightly you can integrate it, the better. Gift cards should be easily compatible with in-store ordering technology to make it as easy as possible for staff and customers to process sales and redeem cards. The same goes for ecommerce sites.
More integration means a more cohesive customer experience, and it also makes it easier to collect and report data related to gift card transactions. This should help you refine your sales and marketing strategy. Integrating gift cards with EPOS systems can also decrease processing times and improve the ability to offer tailored promotions.
Make it different
Finally, think about specificity. Gift cards haven’t been around for all that long, and they weren’t always commonplace. Now they’re available everywhere, so it’s worth making sure yours stands out.
Think about creating different gift cards for different purposes. They come in many flavours: loyalty-based gift cards can be sent to particularly long-time customers to reward them for sticking with you; mystery gift cards can be sent to entice new prospects; you can send them on birthdays or weddings, or you can send them when a customer has checked into a specific location – for a hotel chain, you might want to send customers a specific resort gift card.
You can, of course, also use them to compensate customers for a negative experience. They should all be a part of the same program, but there should be a range available to suit the full range of Customer Experiences you offer. If a customer returns an item for whatever reason, you should give them the option of putting the value onto a gift card – this means the money stays with the retailer, the customer is statistically likely to spend more, and you can easily turn a negative experience into a positive one.
Gift cards, ultimately, are a show of faith in your retailer: instead of spending money on you directly, customers buy them for friends and family – trusting that something within the range of what you offer will make them happy. Repay this faith and trust by making the gift card experience as positive as possible. Customers will reward you for it.