Feature Article - May/June 2017

Call On the Experts

IGCC Offers Solutions, Resources on Gift Card Industry

By Deborah L. Vence

Program Planning

Another responsibility of the IGCC is to provide timely, relevant education and research for members to use in guiding program planning.

"Our benchmarking studies help us keep our finger on the pulse of critical topics such as services offered, marketing strategies, sales channels, card formats and product selection," Gale said.

The effectiveness of using prepaid cards to achieve a desired business result, such as driving loyalty and engagement, stems largely from the power of choice.

"This year we're partnering with the Gift Card Network to update our gift card benchmarking study. By joining forces, we maximize the potential to capture meaningful data that will result in actionable takeaways," she said. "The results from the 2017 benchmarking study were released at the new Flourish conference in April."

Flourish: The Growth of Branded Currency conference will focus on branded currency and target a range of retailers, from those with a national presence to smaller Midwest retailers and their technology service providers.

In 2012, 2014 and 2017, the IGCC partnered with the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) and the Intellective Group to sponsor research to understand the buying dynamics within the B2B gift card marketplace. These studies help members understand shifts in incentive budgets and buying preferences over time.

"Our goal is to help our clients increase recipient engagement," Atten said. "Because we have the research and higher understanding of demographics and trends we're able to match those up with the right brands to create the increased engagement."

With so many emerging options, particularly in the digital area, it's important to know what's working and what's not.

"At an IGCC program I learned about a merchant's struggles and concerns with implementing digital. I was then able to advise my customer that used this merchant to slow their plans for conversion to digital while the merchant worked through their issues," Harris said. "It's that kind of insight that helps IGCC members provide the best advice and service."

Gale added that IGCC networking opportunities are the perfect blend of fun and function. In fact, according to a recent member survey, networking is the No. 1 reason that members join.

"IGCC-hosted receptions are a perfect place to meet a new business partner or cultivate an existing relationship. In this industry, everyone works together—we even see competitors discussing the future of the industry at our events," she said.

"And nothing can compare to good old-fashioned collaboration," she added. "The IGCC hosts three member meetings annually where there are opportunities to share success stories and discuss the hottest trends in roundtable discussions."

The Latest Trends

Research has shown that gift cards are the most frequently used reward in corporate incentive programs.

"The effectiveness of using prepaid cards to achieve a desired business result, such as driving loyalty and engagement, stems largely from the power of choice. Gift cards empower the recipient with the right to choose the item that most motivates them," Gale said.

The popularity of gift cards continues to grow, most notably in digital formats. And, this is happening across all types of gift card channels, even outside of B2B.

"Benchmarking surveys conducted in summer 2016 and spring 2017 allowed us to compare the percentage of sales from e-gift versus plastic in the following channels: third party, online and B2B channels. The percentage of e-gift sales grew across all channels: 5 percent in third party, 22 percent in online and 7 percent in B2B," Gale explained.

"Most recently, a new manifestation of prepaid cards is making big waves. Branded currency is popping up everywhere as well, and so is the headline topic of an all-new gift card conference called Flourish. Branded currency represents a shift in the philosophy of gift cards. They are no longer merely a gifting instrument. They are a doorway for retaining loyal customers, reaching new demographics, promoting uplift and return visits," Gale said.

Meanwhile, technology can facilitate company-wide use of gift cards in ways that weren't possible before.

"Our company works with a marketing agency whose client has over 1,000 stores across the country," Atten said. "Recognizing that communication from leaders is an important element of employee engagement, the company wanted to provide a simultaneous pizza lunch at all 1,000-plus facilities.

"This would allow the employees to enjoy their pizza while listening to a virtual presentation from the CEO," he said. "We were able to provide digital Pizza Hut cards to all 1,000-plus facilities so they could easily order their pizza for the company luncheon."

Borst added that the proliferation of e-card use across the board in incentive and promotional programs continues its upward trend.

"Five years ago plastic gift cards ruled the industry. Today, e-cards account for two-thirds of all of our gift card sales," he said. "With the growth in e-card sales comes the added advantage of delivering a reward to a program participant in hours rather than days or weeks."