Gift Card Programs: How to Choose a Gift Card Supplier

by Al Duggan

You’ve made the decision. It’s time for your business to offer gift cards. Congratulations – I wholeheartedly agree. But the decision to stock this popular gift product may be the easy part. Now it’s time to choose a supplier, your cards and merchandising materials. You remember now why you put this decision off for so long – there is much to consider. By focusing on a few important variables, you’ll be more likely to choose the right partner to help create the most effective gift/loyalty card marketing program for your business.

Where’s the best place start?

Great question. Chances are you’ve already received calls from Independent Sales Organization (ISO) reps who offer a variety of services you need – credit card and check acceptance, transaction processing equipment (terminals), payroll services and even gift cards. You may have received responses from gift card companies after requesting a call by virtue of an online lead form. You’ve heard the pitches – but how do you choose the right gift card company for you?

Let’s start with some simple questions. If you are speaking with an ISO, you should ask about which gift card suppliers they are representing. Some of these gift card companies offer a variety of different financial services to go along with the gift cards. Others are solely in business to service those who need to develop a gift card program. These suppliers will likely be better suited and more experienced to help craft a program that fits your needs.

Look closer. Ask whether they are using a proprietary gift card system and platform or whether they are licensing a system from someone else. Ask them what their stated uptime is. (It can be aggravating to have a system go down for some technical issue right when you are trying to process or sell a card to a customer.) Ask what kind of customer service program is in place. Is their phone support available on their dime? How about email? Is there an all-hours, all-days service coverage in place if a problem comes up?

You’ll also want to take a look at the transaction processing programs offered by the companies you are evaluating. Many offer “flat-fee” programs that include all program activity for one monthly fee for a large block of transactions. Other programs may bill on a “per-transaction” basis where the monthly fees are reduced or eliminated and the merchant pays a small fee when a card is activated, value is added, it is redeemed, or when a customer checks a card balance. Often the best way to choose between these options is to estimate card sales and the resulting transaction activity and compare the costs of each plan.

Once your gift card program is launched, you’ll need to track results. To this end, you should inquire about the types of reports that will be made available to you and how you will be able to view and access these. Essentially, the more reports you can see, the better. Once you get used to what all the reports and data mean, you will be able to have a firmer grasp on how well certain aspects of your program are functioning.

What About the Hardware?

Perhaps it’s not an obvious concern, but you will want to make sure that the Point-Of-Sale (POS) system and hardware is compatible with your setup. One of the first things to ask is whether the gift card processing software will work with your terminals and be integrated into your Point-of-Sale system. Gift card software applications are tied into your credit card terminal or POS system, so you will want to find a company that works with higher number of these systems. The more systems and terminals they are compatible with, the stronger and more legit they are in their market.

It May Be in the Cards

Now comes the emotional part – choosing your card. You have a number of choices here but the first decision you’ll need to make is “standard or custom?” Standard cards are designed by the gift card company and are often available for specific markets and targeted holiday buying events. The advantage to standard cards is speed-to-market. Since the cards are already designed and printed, they can be personalized for your business by adding your business name and other text (some companies can even print your logo on standard cards) and you can be selling gift cards within a week. The key is to choose a gift card company that offers a standard card design that appeals to you. Larger companies offer tools on their websites that let merchants not only check out their standard card designs, but try out different typestyles and colors for the personalization on their chosen design before they commit to a card.

If speed to market isn’t quite as vital, you may wish to look into a full-custom card. Although the expense may be higher and turnaround a little slower, you will have the advantage of completely controlling your branding and image. You can develop a card design that fits with the personality of your business and coordinates with your marketing plans. Some card suppliers will even have designers available who can put together the type of card you desire at a worthwhile price. Ask about the design-approval process, whether it can be handled rapidly and is web or email-based.

Digging Further With a Few More Questions

Promoting your card doesn’t stop at the design. Find out whether your gift card company has additional marketing materials and tools available for you. Often useful are such things as card hangers, card carriers, signage and posters, display racks and card envelopes. All of this can help increase sales at your place of business and make a big impact in the success of your program. Also ask about additional gift card presentation products that you can up-sell to your consumers.

A great final question is “How does this company communicate with merchants?” Most major gift card companies offer newsletters and email notifications designed to make the merchant more effective and notify them about new products and services. The gift and loyalty marketing business is dynamic and growing. It pays to partner with a company that will keep you informed of industry trends and tips to increase your sales.

You’ve made a good decision to pursue a gift card program. Once you hook up with a gift card company, it can be tricky to convert your program to a new one later. So, do a little research, ask the right questions and you should be able to find the right gift card supplier to meet your business’s needs.

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