Leading retailers have made it a priority to create seamless omnichannel experiences for their customers; from apparel through health and beauty to restaurants, brand owners are adding features that allow their customers to order products online or from their mobile devices, and either pick them up in the store or have them delivered to their home.
Women’s apparel retailer Athleta, for example, has laptops set up in-store that allow customers to check on availability of items and order online, if they’re not available at that moment in the store. Cosmetics giant Sephora has an app called “My Beauty Bag” that allows customers to track their purchase history and store their favorite products online, whether from their laptops or a mobile device, for use in ordering or when shopping in-store.
As retailers continue to refine their omnichannel functionality, they should consider integrating e-gift card and promotions programs into their online platforms with that same degree of seamlessness. Here are some recent research findings that would appear to drive this mandate: Younger consumers are beginning to spend more on gift cards. This past holiday season, 58% of consumers aged 18 to 35 said they would spend more on gift cards this year than last year.
This is understandable considering how Millennials communicate and shop — they prefer engaging in experiences over buying a lot of stuff, and what they buy for others, they want to be meaningful and relevant. Their multichannel communication through social networking and their smartphones leaves little time for face-to-face interactions. So what better fit for these younger shoppers than gift cards? Gift givers don’t have to commit to purchasing a particular item, leaving it to the receiver’s taste and discretion — but they can still make a statement by buying a gift card for a particular brand, whether it’s Starbucks, Lululemon or Tiffany.
And for those retailers who already have successful in-store gift card programs in place, it becomes a key goal to make their e-Commerce platform as functional as what they have set up in brick-and-mortar. Gone are the days when gift cards were a last-ditch effort when a giver couldn’t think of anything else to offer. Now gift cards are used proactively — here are a few of the ways: Birthday (that’s a no-brainer). Thank you. Housewarming. Sympathy. An employer buying her hardworking staff a week’s worth of lunches to show appreciation and keep them motivated. And now consider how the digital, online component of this type of mission-specific giving renders the whole process that much more convenient, instantaneous, tactful and delightfully varied for both the customer-as-giver and the customer-as-receiver, whether on mobile, tablet or laptop.
Another aspect of digital gift cards and e-gift cards is that they are an excellent and trackable source of information — retailers can now use the data from gift card transactions to better understand their customer behavior. Each card possesses the ability to influence consumer behavior and drive sales. And to provide an additional dimension, merchants can integrate online promotions through their e-gift card programs that drive traffic to desired destinations during specific periods of time, and encourage spend at specific levels. Viewed this way, gift cards can form the backbone of a retailer’s initiative to drive different behaviors and spend patterns. There are several ways to improve how they perform for you, too, both online and in the physical store.
In order to be able to offer a streamlined, powerful e-Commerce solution that provides the best possible omnichannel experience to customers, retailers need to be looking at their overall card capability from a holistic, 360-degree point of view. It’s possible to implement this online (and mobile) capability in such a way that the retailer maintains control of all the marketing — those things that make the brand unique and appealing — while all the back-end technology is handled for them, from the emailed notification of the gift card all the way to seamlessly processing the transaction and tracking the data.
Card delivery, for example, is handled in a way that the notification email looks like it’s coming from the retailer, while it’s really coming from dedicated back-end servers. They can also process the payment, set up full integration among the merchant’s online and in-store card programs and their mobile app. Meanwhile, the retailer can design the cards themselves, determine the merchandising, and even build and upload videos about their gift card and promotions programs, all adding up to a seamless omnichannel experience.
What’s The Best Approach To E-Gift Cards?
Your online gift card offering could include multiple card designs, to show your brand in multiple lights and appeal to a broad range of customers. This initiative can have a direct impact on improving sales. We’ve also found that with a wide choice of designs, the purchaser can create a more personal gifting experience. And if you change out your card designs on a regular basis, customers will still remain loyal to your brand, but they won’t look like they’re giving last year’s card.
The inherent digitized property of e-gift cards make them the ideal offering as retailers refine their digital strategies, because they can be used both in consumer-facing contexts — in combination with promotions, for example — and in-house decision making — as they hold the Big Data capability to aggregate and narrate information on customers’ needs, wants and preferences.
The retailer needs access to tools that do all the virtual merchandising and fixturing, custom designs and banner ads, with a high degree of customization and personalization, an elegant customer interface and a dedicated gift card engine — so that no matter how the card is used, whether scanned, typed into a web site or swiped, everything from processing the payment to how the data on the transaction is managed and reported happens seamlessly as one integrated, connected event. It’s all about meeting consumer expectations. Retailers have to make that happen whether they’re in the store or on a tablet, on their mobile phone or a PC — and be able to link all those channels and devices in one smooth flow.
The overall experience should be streamlined and friction-free: A simplicity that belies the technical complexity behind it, and that instills confidence so that the customer never has to ask, “Are we there, yet?” It’s clear and obvious that the transaction has gone through. If you already have a gift card and promotions program in place, digitize it so your customers can also use it seamlessly online, in-store and on their mobile devices. Fold digital gift cards and promotional offerings into your web site right up front. You can accept payment for the cards online, and allow your customers to use them online or in-store.
The technology and back-end functions have all been worked out, and you can also integrate the functions with your mobile app. Your design and merchandising creativity can be put to great use in keeping a flow of fresh new looks for your customers. And in the process, you’ll be learning more about your customers through the data these instruments will give you access to. E-gift card capabilities are constantly improving, so as retailers improve their overall digital offerings, it makes strategic sense to make this goal a part of your omnichannel branding initiative.
Mark Schatz is President of Louisville, KY-based Stored Value Solutions (SVS), and can be reached at [email protected]. Jenny Parris is Head of Global Marketing and Product at Stored Value Solutions (SVS). She can be reached at [email protected]. Stored Value Solutions works with top retail brands worldwide to optimize their gift card programs, both brick and mortar and digital.