How to Strengthen Your Gift Card Program

By Tom Boucher, Senior Director of Consulting

Insights from the 2016 RSR Digital Gifting Benchmark Report

RSR 2016 Digital Gifting Benchmark Study - Strengthen your gift card programFor the last six years, RSR Research has evaluated how the nation’s top retailers, restaurants, and – new this year – airlines are faring with their digital gifting programs. Why do they do this, you ask? Because the best way to assess the constantly evolving gift card landscape is to experience purchasing and receiving a digital gift card firsthand.

RSR analysts Nikki Baird and Steve Rowen evaluated the complete digital gift card experience for 100 retailers, restaurants and airlines. Of the 100 brands chosen for evaluation, 81 offered digital gift cards. RSR scored the brands on criteria including speediness of gift card delivery, omnichannel payment options, mobile wallet integration, ease of redemption and more. Highlights of this year’s findings include the fact that brands are working to improve their offerings by providing mobile web optimized purchase experiences (50 out of 81) and via mobile apps (20 out of 81), enabling near real-time delivery (35 out 81) and the ability to purchase gift cards with loyalty points (29 out of 81).

Rather than recap the report, which you can read here, I’d like to offer tips for retailers looking to improve their digital gifting experiences. No matter how basic or advanced your gift card program is, the RSR findings offer valuable lessons for all retailers.

For those retailers just getting started:

  • Make it easy – Whether we’re talking about the check-out process or finding the gift card option on your desktop or mobile website, make sure everything is accessible and easy to use for your shoppers.
  • Ensure it is operational – Put simply, it should work. We were surprised to find out just how many purchase and delivery glitches the analysts experienced over the course of their research. And, make sure your cards are easy to redeemable across all channels.

For those ready to take their gift card programs to the next level:

  • Expand your reach – Consider syncing your digital gifting program with your mobile app or mobile wallets. Your customers are engaging with these channels, and not meeting your shoppers where they are is a huge missed opportunity.
  • Consider Personalization – A recent CashStar research report found that 75 percent of gift card consumers surveyed are interested in digital gift card personalization. Whether you add something as simple as personalized messages, or step it up with faceplates and custom photo and video options, it helps enhance the consumers’ experience.

For those digital gifting leaders:

  • Look for new opportunities – Take measure of your program and see where there is room for improvement. At least one merchant had a perfect score in 20 of the 22 categories, so the criteria in the report were very attainable. However, of the 81 retailers, restaurants and airlines included in the study not one received a perfect score, which means there is room for improvement in everyone’s programs.
  • Use gift cards in new ways – There are many ways digital gift cards can be strategically used across organizations. Promotions, loyalty and marketing campaigns are a natural fit. Take Sephora, which offered recipients of its Beauty Studio gift card a complimentary custom makeover, or The Cheesecake Factory‘s eSlice of Joy promotion, which offers a free slice of cheesecake for every $25 digital gift card purchase. These companies have seen much success when strategically using promotions to encourage gift card sales and driving store visits. Other retailers have used digital cards for merchandise returns, customer care, warranty claims and even employee incentives.

Purchasing and receiving digital gift cards is a customer experience. And while it may seem like common sense, the best way to ensure the success of your gift card program is by shopping regularly on your own site and keeping in mind the flawless and engaging user experience you want for your customers.

Tom Boucher is a seasoned gift card pro having spent several years managing Best Buy‘s gift card program and serving on the board of the Retail Gift Card Association which he co-founded. You can hear him discuss the RSR Benchmark Study via a previously recorded webinar, him with questions, or set up some time to talk shop.

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