Learn what egift cards are, how to make them more personal, pick out the best egift cards and avoid digital delivery pitfalls.
Image credit: GraphicBurger
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 egift 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 egift cards more personal, help you pick the best egift 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.
Short for electronic gift cards and known by various other nicknames (see below), egift 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 egift 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 egift card terms.
Gift Code or
|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
|Also referred to as a digital gift card or a virtual gift card, an egift 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 egift card delivered to a web-enabled phone with a barcode or QR code that the Point of Sale (POS) terminal can scan. While regular egift 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, egift 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.)|
|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, 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 egift 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.)
In my opinion, the best egift 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. In reviewing the best egift cards on the market and summarizing results in this eGift Card Infographic, I focused on the following criteria:
1. Design Variety
Since egift cards don’t have to be ordered and held in inventory like plastic gift cards do, the best egift cards include a wide selection of designs. Lululemon.com, for example, offers 28 egift card images. Amazon.com has close to 100 standard egift 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 egift cards at GiftCards.com).
From the ability to add a message to the greeting, on up to the possibility of adding a personal photo or video, I believe egift 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 egift card.)
3. Ease of Delivery
While most egift 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.
4. Ease of Redemption
Here’s the crux of the egift 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 egift cards get delivered below.)
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.
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.
7. Notifications and Reminders
Because egift 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.
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 egift cards offered by the top stores in the nation.
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 egift cards are delivered thoughtfully.
Deliver on time
There’s no blaming the post office for a card that doesn’t arrive in the mail. Since egift 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 egift card delivery that can be scheduled.)
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.
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:
Read this post for more suggestions on what to write in an egift card.
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.
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:
Send to the Correct Address
People often have more than one e-mail address. Sending an egift 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.
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.
If you don’t hear from the recipient within a day or two, check to see if he received the egift 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 egift 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 egift card is successfully sent to the designated recipient. That means you may not receive help or reimbursement if an egift 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 egift card is supposed to be a present, not a problem.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 egift cards at the cash register for more details.
Word of Caution!
In reviewing top store egift cards, I discovered that some merchants require their egift 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 egift 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.
Below are some statistics and expert opinion on the current status and future of mobile gifting.
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 egift cards becomes easier than buying and using plastic, and our attitude toward doing so softens, we could 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 Gift Carding!
~Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend
About Gift Card Girlfriend
From gift card tips and practical advice, to inspiring ideas and insights into the gift card industry, Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend and spokesperson for GiftCards.com, is your go-to guide. As a gift card expert, she can address any gift card question or concern you have, plus share her signature way of turning gift cards into thoughtful, personalized gifts.
Shelley recently created the popular Chapter 11 Gift Card Watchlist to help consumers keep track of gift cards that are in jeopardy of losing value due to stores going into bankruptcy proceedings.
Learn more about Gift Card Girlfriend here.