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5 Reasons to add gift cards to your rewards list


Retail gift cards hold a coveted position in the pantheon of rewards, second only to cash.

And some would argue better than cash. The Incentive Research Foundation, the industry go-to source for unbiased factual information on all things rewards, reports that over 80% of US businesses use more than one type of reward in their incentive mix. And 72% of US businesses with sales incentive programs use gift cards. I could go on with the statistics, but you get the picture.

Take a moment to remember the last time you received a gift card. Didn’t it feel like being handed the keys to the candy store? Walk in and get anything you want. Sweet!

A real-life personal example illustrates the point. On my most recent birthday, my dear friend Angie (names changed to protect sensitive feelings) gave me a whopping big retail gift card for my favourite high street retailer. My first thought: “Oh relief, not another hot pink jersey.” My second thought: “I can get anything I want. I want lots of things. Yeah!” I love my friend Angie, but really, some people just lose the plot when it comes to presents and a gift card is really a sure-hit gift. For most of us, anyway. Yet, some industry pundits disagree.

Has the novelty worn thin?

There is grumbling in the market that that gift cards have seen their day; they’re generic, impersonal and worse, a fallback for people too thoughtless or lazy to choose an actual gift. (This, from people who have never experienced the awkward charade of swooning over yet another hot pink birthday jersey.)

While it’s true that gift cards are not the newest, latest, greatest thing to hit the rewards market, they’re evergreen for good reason. You just can’t beat them as a surprise and delight mechanism and I challenge you to find a single person who would sniff at a gift card. It’s free money. Only better! Here’s why.

1. Cards offer big reward in a small package

The thing to remember about cards is that they’re a rewards delivery mechanism. The bigger impact is in the whole rewards experience.

It starts with the card itself. Classic or contemporary, a rewards card is a wallet-sized canvas for visual expression of your brand message. Be seriously thankful, wildly congratulatory or boldly brand loyal. People talk about bulging wallets and the end of plastic cards, but there’s something to the visual lure and tangible certainty of a card that holds lasting appeal. It just feels good. And even better, it’s loaded with personal reward possibilities.

Then, there are the various communication touchpoints on the card user’s journey. There are a host of opportunities here to reinforce a rich rewards experience.

Picture this – the card is presented in a custom-designed, branded cardholder with a note of congratulations and clear activation instructions. (Remember, you’re going for a seamless process here.) Time is no issue because personalised online activation is available 24/7. Activation triggers an instant ‘ready, steady, spend’ email (personalised, of course). Regular, transactional communications relay spending, balances and relevant account management information.

It’s a seamless, personalised brand experience that supports an emotional bond with your employees, channel partners and customers.

2. Cards for every purpose

Cards are nothing if not versatile. That’s why they’re such a popular element in any rewards list. The major categories:

Shopping cards

These reusable (and reloadable) cards are primarily used in long-term points-based rewards programs. Spend limits are flexible, important self-managed security features minimise card abuse and they’re used just like a cash card at any point of sale. (In the case of the GET Rewards card, that’s any place that accepts Mastercard.) Rewards are instant, choice is nearly endless, so every purchase is personally meaningful and purposeful.

In a points-based reward program, shopping cards are a great way to:

  • Give a little boost to your team’s sales performance, particularly when they least expect it. It’s a competitive game and this little surprise and delight reward helps keep momentum going.
  • Recognise and appreciate your staff. When you want to say thanks for putting in extra effort, or reward an exceptional achievement, cards are an easy, meaningful way to give ‘on the spot’ rewards. A true surprise and delight moment.
  • Incentivise your channel partners. The better they perform, the better your business performs and that kind of connection takes time and effort to forge. Nurture those relationships with a little incentive.

Online Shopping Cards

Online Shopping Cards serve much the same purpose as traditional cards–only they’re virtual--which some people, particularly the digital natives among us, prefer to plastic cards.

Also used in long-term, points-based programs, online cards are used for e-commerce shopping and more recently, at informal traders. Thanks to mobile payment apps, such as SnapScan and Zapper, online shopping cards can be used at flea markets, festivals, pop-up shops, spazas and other previously cash-only establishments. The purposeful choices just keep expanding!

Gift Cards

These prepaid, single-use cards are ideal surprise and delight reward mechanisms. They’re a delight to give and to get. They’re perfect if you need to:

  • Launch a new product
  • Run a short-term promotion
  • Drive traffic in-store
  • Create a special surprise and delight moment for your customers and followers
  • Resolve a service issue with a goodwill gesture
  • Celebrate a staff birthday, anniversary or significant personal event

3. Lasting brand value

You can’t buy the kind of exposure you’ll get with a branded gift card. It’s flashed at the till, shared with friends and shouts VIP. The reusable cards, in particular, become part of an individual’s consumer being.

And don’t underestimate the brand value of repeat exposure. A long-term program can last for years – and so will the card. That’s pretty good brand value for investment.

Sure, cards sometimes have a way of disappearing into the dark recesses of a desk drawer. But a rewards card loaded and ready to spend will more likely live in a wallet; removed, shuffled, contemplated, safely stored in a secret flap or given pride of place in the front card slot. And every glance sparks a fond memory, reinforcing the brand / reward connection. A little rush of dopamine happiness.

4. Gift cards pack flat

There are a lot of brand benefits to gift cards. But let’s not forget the role of fulfilment in making your rewards program a success. The no-nonsense people at Incentive Gift Card Council highlight the beautiful simplicity of gift cards:

“…they pack flat, no assembly required and are never technologically obsolete.”

Seamless fulfilment is a big part of the rewards experience and gift card fulfilment is easy. Cards are quick to order and easy to store. Distribution costs are low – it’s a flat cardholder, after all, and activation is a simple matter of providing clear instructions. Compare this, I ask you, to merchandise rewards. The procurement, supply chain challenges and shipping costs. And what’s more, you don’t really control the full rewards experience.

It’s the rare individual who sits home waiting for a courier delivery. A note in the postbox that a package has arrived just adds to the list of Saturday errands. This is not the gleeful presentation of flower delivery commercials. This is a schlep that you don’t really need to make on the weekend. Gift cards slide quite neatly into your postbox waiting to bring you a little rush of joy when you arrive home from a hectic day.

A word of caution here, card fulfilment is easy, but only if you have the right supplier. You can play the Google lottery and take your chances, but better to go with an established business that offers full in-house services, including a dedicated consultant who can keep you updated and in the loop with your order, and any technical glitches. Don’t be shy to ask your prospective supplier for a few client references, so that you can gain an objective view of their performance.

The card industry has exploded in recent years and there are plenty of reward card suppliers to choose from. But don’t let cost be your only selection criterion. Look for a partner that will give attention to your account, provide expert advice and help you achieve sustainable success with your program.

5. A simple way to get digital

Digital rewards are no longer an option, but a necessity in a reward mix.

Online shopping cards could be just the digital edge you need to bond with your customers, channel partners and employees in a world transformed by mobile technology.

People are connected to multiple platforms, continually and simultaneously, which means that rewards can be experienced instantly and personally. And because of the ubiquitous nature of social media, these highly personalised reward experiences can easily be shared – turning a personal surprise and delight experience into a moment of collective celebration.

Think about the benefits. You amplify your brand reach, connect with an extended network of potential brand fans and reinforce a personal brand connection with your customers, employees and partners. No question; you need to put digital on your rewards list.


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Joyce Monson

About Joyce Monson

Joyce Monson is a freelance writer with an abiding interest in human behaviour. She has written for numerous trade and consumer publications on subjects ranging from loyalty marketing to employee recognition and rewards.

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