Gift Card Girlfriend’s Complete Guide to e-Gift Cards

Are you ready for the world of mobile gifting? A couple of years ago, I would have answered “no” on your behalf, but things have changed. The technology is working and we’ve become cyber-savvy people who are accustomed to receiving our most important communication electronically. However, business messages, calendar reminders and other electronic announcements are expected to be void of sentiment. That is not the case with e-gift cards. As givers, we must put as much thought and effort into delivering digital gifts as we once put into picking out traditional presents.

In the guide below, I’ll share my signature approach to making e-gift cards more personal, help you pick the best e-gift cards and tell you how to avoid digital delivery pitfalls. Let’s start with a few definitions, though, to be sure we’re all talking about the same thing.

What’s Inside

What are e-Gift Cards?

Top-ranked e-Gift Cards

How to Make e-Gift Cards More Personal

How to Make Sure e-Gift Cards Get Delivered

How to Redeem e-Gift Cards

e-Gift Card Statistics and Points of Interest

Seeing the Future


What are e-Gift Cards?

image of mobile gift card
Image credit: GraphicBurger

Short for electronic gift cards and known by various other nicknames (see below), e-gift cards refer to gift cards that are delivered electronically such as through e-mail, text message, social media or mobile app. While most people are comfortable using e-gift cards online simply by entering the number into an online shopping cart, not everybody is aware that most digital gift cards can also be used in stores. Below are some of the more common e-gift card terms.

TermDefinition

Gift Code or
Gift Card Code

Simply put, a gift code is a gift card number without the “card.” More accurately, it is a number linked to a gift card account that is redeemable for service or merchandise. Gift codes are redeemable online and are often redeemable in stores as well. Since there is no plastic gift card to swipe, the card number must be manually entered online or at the cash register. Some gift codes are also displayed as bar codes or QR codes so they can be scanned. (Read more on how to shop with gift codes.)

Electronic Gift Card
(e-Gift Card)

Also referred to as a digital gift card or a virtual gift card, an e-gift card is the e-mail, text message or other notification that gets sent to the recipient. The message may contain the gift code itself or a link the recipient must click in order to “claim” the gift code. In some cases, the recipient must also create an account with the issuing company in order to obtain the gift code.

Mobile Gift Card

An e-gift card delivered to a web-enabled phone with a barcode or QR code that the Point of Sale (POS) terminal can scan. While regular e-gift cards can likely be accessed via mobile phones (e.g. read gift card number or click link in an e-mail), a true mobile gift card is often delivered from app to app–and yes, the recipient must download the app in order to access the card. (Of course, e-gift cards can always be added to a Mobile Wallet or Mobile Gift Card app to make redemption easier.)

Mobile Gift Card App

Different from simply accessing a gift code on your smartphone, a mobile gift card app provides a way to store, organize, redeem, buy and send gift codes. In most cases, you can also upload gift codes from plastic gift cards, so you no longer need the physical plastics in order to redeem the cards. Some apps even convert gift codes into virtual gift cards with barcodes or QR codes for easy POS scanning. Popular mobile gift card apps include Gyft and GoWallet. (SaveYa is a beta-release gift card app that allows users to quickly buy discount gift codes that can be redeemed in stores for big savings.)

Mobile Wallet

More than just a gift card organizer, a mobile wallet can be used to store gift cards, credit cards, debit cards and more, allowing consumers to go completely virtual at the cash register. Popular mobile wallets include the newly announced Apple Pay, Google Wallet, SoftCard (renamed from Isis), Passbook and the beta-release of Amazon Wallet.

Gift Credits

Gift credits, though similar to gift codes in that they are delivered electronically and given as presents, function more like money transfers. With Giftly, for example, the user sends a credit to another person with a suggestion on where to spend the money. The recipient claims the Giftly credit and gets a deposit to his or her own credit card–then must use that credit card to buy something. With a GiftRocket credit, the recipient receives an e-gift card with a choice of accepting the gifted money as a bank transfer, credit card payment, check in the mail or PayPal deposit. So the main difference between a gift card and a gift credit is that the recipient receives a deposit (of sorts) to use however he or she would like.

(With our own GiftYa app currently in development, the money only transfers out of the sender’s account if the recipient uses the credit to buy something. Unused funds are returned–a significant improvement over unused gift cards that ultimately go to waste.)


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Top-ranked e-Gift Cards

how e-gift cards stack up

In my opinion, the best e-gift cards to give are the ones that provide the best possible experience for both the giver and the receiver. Frankly, I care less about fancy technology than ease of use and personalization. Below are my criteria for evaluating the best e-gift cards on the market.

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1. Design Variety

Since e-gift cards don’t have to be ordered and held in inventory like plastic gift cards do, the best e-gift cards include a wide selection of designs. Lululemon.com, for example, offers 28 e-gift card images. Amazon.com has close to 100 standard e-gift card images in their “birthday” category alone, and that number does not include the animated, “suggest a gift”, upload a photo or the “print at home” options. HomeDepot.com allows you to upload a video. (See e-gift cards at GiftCards.com).

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2. Personalization

From the ability to add a message to the greeting, on up to the possibility of adding a personal photo or video, I believe e-gift cards simply MUST be personalized. If the gift isn’t arriving in the mailbox or being handed over in-person, then this is the best way to add much-needed sentiment to the gift. (Find out what to say on an e-gift card.)

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3. Ease of Delivery

While most e-gift cards can be e-mailed, many can also be delivered via social media (Facebook being the most popular) or text message. I especially like when a company offers a “print at home” option, because it gives consumers expediency while not eliminating the possibility of an in-person presentation.

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4. Ease of Redemption

Here’s the crux of the e-gift card conundrum. The card must be as easy for the receiver to use as it is for the giver to buy. Factors that make this possible include having a range of delivery options to fit various technical abilities and hardware, ample notification of the delivery, and customer service if there is a problem. (A couple of years ago, I sent my brother a mobile gift card from a smartphone app. When he didn’t receive the gift, I discovered he didn’t have a smartphone. Read how to make sure e-gift cards geet delivered below.)

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5. Scheduling

The beauty of digital gifting is that you never have to miss another occasion–as soon as you remember it’s your best friend’s birthday, you can have a present on its way. If you remember ahead of time, you may even be able to schedule delivery. At LandsEnd.com, the default delivery time is immediate, but you can schedule delivery up to six months in advance.

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6. Flexible Dollar Amounts

Like the versatility in design, it’s nice when consumers have the option to enter dollar amounts that work for their budgets rather than be limited by a range of pre-set choices. Flexible dollar amounts also facilitate creativity such as $49 for your 49th birthday.

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7. Notifications and Reminders

Because e-gift cards are purchased and delivered online, merchants have contact information for both parties and know the status of the digital gift card at all times. Basic “sent” messages are appreciated, but notifications on whether or not the gift code has been opened, claimed or redeemed are even better.

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8. Low or No Fees

Since there is no plastic to mail, mobile gift cards should be shipped free of charge. Although you pay for Visa® and MasterCard® activation on gift cards at GiftCards.com, the shipping and handling doesn’t cost a dime.

 

Want to see how your favorite merchant’s digital gift card stacks up? Check out my comparison of e-gift cards offered by the top stores in the nation.


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How to Make e-Gift Cards More Personal

e-gift card from amazon

Image credit: Amazon.com

I believe any gift card can be made to appear more thoughtful with just a little effort. With plastic gift cards, that “effort” can be as simple as packaging the gift card with a small present (e.g. a movie gift card with a box of theater candy, a Footlocker gift card tucked into a new pair of socks, etc.) Although delivering more than the gift card is not possible when going digital–unless you select the “print at home” option–below are a few steps you can take to ensure e-gift cards are delivered thoughtfully.

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Deliver on time

There’s no blaming the post office for a card that doesn’t arrive in the mail. Since e-gift cards are practically instantaneous, deliver them on or before the special day. (If you’re afraid you’re going to forget the gift, select an e-gift card delivery that can be scheduled.)

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Add a Photo or Video

With a variety of digital designs to choose from, select an image that the recipient will appreciate. If possible, upload a personal photo or a video—either makes the digital card one of a kind.

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Add a Personal Message

I’m looking for more than “Happy Birthday” here. Given that sending mobile gift cards takes little more effort than playing Words with Friends, a moment spent writing a sentimental greeting shouldn’t be too much to ask. Some suggested one-liners are:

  • “Wish I could deliver this in person.”
  • “Miles apart, but always in my heart.”
  • “Gift now, hugs to follow.”

Read this post for more suggestions on what to write in an e-gift card.

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Pick the Right Card.

Just like plastic, electronic gift cards should be convenient to redeem, given in a usable amount and have no restrictions. Read my tips on how to pick the perfect gift card for other rules that apply.


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How to Make Sure e-Gift Cards Get Delivered

Since electronic gift card delivery is most likely automated, making sure digital cards get delivered isn’t really the concern. We want to make sure they get RECEIVED by the intended recipients. So send your virtual gift via the technology the receiver uses most often. If your friend is posting her Candy Crush scores on Facebook every day, then a Facebook-delivered gift code is perfect. If she’s more apt to check her e-mail than how many likes she got on a recent post, then select electronic mail delivery instead. Before sending a gift card via text message or a gift card app, make sure the recipient has a smartphone. If you nail the right technology, then you only need to do three more things:

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Send to the Correct Address

People often have more than one e-mail address. Sending an e-gift card to a seldom checked address could turn your just-in-time birthday wishes into a belated present. If you’re not sure which address to use, send a test e-mail to see if the recipient responds.

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Send Up a Flare

It’s a good idea to put the recipient on high-alert to expect an incoming message. You won’t ruin the surprise simply by saying, “Don’t forget to check your e-mail tomorrow!” If nothing is received, the intended recipient will bring it to your attention since you are the one who mentioned it in the first place.

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Follow Up

If you don’t hear from the recipient within a day or two, check to see if he received the e-gift card. It’s awkward, of course, but better to ask and find out than to have your surprise sit in a SPAM folder indefinitely.

 

Word of Caution!

When ranking the best e-gift cards available, I noticed that several merchants have terms and conditions stating that the customer is responsible for providing an accurate e-mail address and that the delivery obligation is fully satisfied when an e-mail containing a valid e-gift card is successfully sent to the designated recipient. That means you may not receive help or reimbursement if an e-gift card is sent to the wrong address or the recipient has difficulty accessing it. Unlike a plastic gift card, however, the merchant should be able to tell whether or not the digital card has been received, claimed or redeemed. So save your confirmation e-mail or receipt in case the delivery fails in one way or another. If there is a problem, call customer service to resolve the situation. Never put the burden of troubleshooting the gift delivery on the recipient. An e-gift card is supposed to be a present, not a problem.


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How to Redeem e-Gift Cards

Redeeming a gift code online is as easy as manually entering the number into a website’s shopping cart. Redeeming a gift code at a store isn’t much harder, but since there is no physical gift card to hand to the cashier, the process is less intuitive. Below are four ways to use gift codes in stores:

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Print and Carry

If received via e-mail or social media, print the gift code (including the PIN if applicable), on your printer. At the store, hand the printout to the clerk for payment.

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Take a Picture

Rather than printing the code onto paper, store it as an image on your smartphone. When you get to the cash register, hand your phone to the clerk to key-enter the number.

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Access the Code on Your Phone

Skip the computer and access the gift code directly on your smartphone—clicking on the link in a text message, e-mail, Facebook post and so on. If displayed as a digital image, the cashier may be able to scan the card instead of manually entering the numbers.

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Use a Mobile Gift Card App or Mobile Wallet

Load the gift code into an app on your smartphone. When you get to the register, hand your phone to the clerk. If the app converts the code to a barcode or QR code, the clerk may be able to scan the virtual card instead of key-entering the numbers.

Read my post on how to use e-gift cards at the cash register for more details.

 

Word of Caution!

In reviewing top store e-gift cards, I discovered that some merchants require their e-gift cards be used online. For example, the DICK’s Sporting Goods website explains, “DICK’S Sporting Goods Online Gift Certificates are redeemable online only and not at DICK’S Sporting Goods retail stores.” Conversely, the Bass Pro Shops website says that “eGift Cards can be redeemed for online purchases, catalog orders, and purchases made at Bass Pro Shops retail stores.”

When there is a gap between the physical and digital gift card usability at a store, I believe the restrictions are largely a result of a cash register system unable to handle the new e-gift card technology. I expect these gaps to be eliminated as we move toward a world of mobile payments. In the meantime, look for restrictions (of all types) prior to buying and sending an electronic gift card.


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e-Gift Card Statistics and Points of Interest

Below are some statistics and expert opinion on the current status and future of mobile gifting.

  • As of 2013, gift cards overall are expected to grow at an annual rate of less than 6 percent, but digital cards are experiencing annual growth of 200 percent. (In the Cards)
  • More than one in four digital or online gift cards sold in December are sold between Dec. 21 and Dec. 24. (Chart of the Day)
  • In 2013, 84 percent of shoppers used digital for shopping-related activities before or during their most recent trip to a store. Smartphone devices alone influenced $593 billion, or 19 percent of all in-store retail sales. (The New Digital Divide)
  • Digital cards have a particular appeal to younger customers who are early technology adopters. (In the Cards)
  • In 2013, a report on digital gift cards showed that 69 of 99 retailers evaluated offering digital gift cards–up from 59 percent in 2011 and 40 percent in 2010. (Gift Card Spending to Reach an All-Time High)

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Seeing the Future

As someone who has both given and received digital gift cards, I can honestly say that the technology has improved dramatically. A few years ago, I would have said that plastic is here to stay for quite some time. While I still believe that to be true, the time frame appears to be shorter than I expected. Since we are growing increasingly accustomed to handling all of our affairs electronically, gifting will be no exception. Just a few years ago, for example, texting was considered the most impersonal communication method around and we heavily criticized teenagers for using it to the detriment of their social interaction. But now us moms use it just as much, if not more, than our kids do.

As sending and using e-gift cards becomes easier than buying and using plastic, and our attitude toward doing so softens, we could be be “opening” birthday gifts without ever getting out of bed or having personal contact with anyone. While that might seem lonely, I submit that taking the steps needed to ensure mobile gift cards still feel personal, contain the right message and are properly delivered will be the ingredients needed to make cyber-gifting as sentimental as possible.

Happy e-Gift Carding!

~Gift Card Girlfriend

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