Saturday, June 16, 2007

Dressing up the lowly gift card

In the course of reading this little article in PROMO Magazine, I started to think about the process of purchasing a gift. These days, pre-paid, branded gift cards are a huge business You can buy a branded gift card for virtually any retailer, get instant personalized gift cards using custom photography, and number of variations on that theme. While the PROMO article looks at the use of new and better packaging to dress up gift cards so that they're more suitable for gift-giving, I approached the process from the other end, thinking about the steps somebody might go through that would lead to the purchase of a gift card as a gift.

Let's face it. A lot of people still feel like giving a gift card is just a cop-out. Even those people who hate shopping for gifts, or don't know the recipient particularly well. I think perhaps we've all gotten the impression that a gift purchasing experience should either be a) amazingly easy (in the case where you know what the perfect gift for somebody is), or b) excruciatingly difficult (as if the expenditure of time on your part is going to be translated into that gift, and the recipient will immediately know how much you care due to this).

The industry's response has been to add personalization capabilities, prettier graphics, and more graphical choices. This gives the shopper the ability to either a) immediately find the perfect gift card image, thus satisfying the "it should be easy" condition, or b) spend hours flipping through a catalogue of gift card entries, or even better, use some custom photos and graphics to make a unique card himself, thus satisfying the "it should be hard" condition.

I actually think there's another part to the process, though, and that's the retailer's obligation to present the card as a valid gift. Again, new packaging does address some of that. By making the cards festive and interesting, there's an implicit understanding that the item being purchased needs to be special, not just a piece of plastic. Catering to those who don't catch the implicit vibes, lots of stores have started to feature the cards prominently at checkout aisles and on endcaps in order to make sure that everybody knows that they're there in the event that even after all that hard shopping, the shopper can't find that perfect gift and has to "settle."

But while they've certainly improved their displays since the gift card really exploded a few years ago, I still get the feeling that they're relegated to second-class status when it comes to store design. Hanging pegboards and flimsy cardboard displays are hardly a great way to showcase a high-margin, nearly universally-acceptable product, but few retailers that I've seen seem to agree with me. You know you're going to be selling these things forever, and they don't take up a huge amount of space. Why not build in some great-looking permanant displays to merchandise them like the high-margin items they are?

No comments: