by Alex Palmer | December 12, 2017
The holidays are a huge time for gift cards, both as employee incentives and consumer rewards. But as these rewards have grown in popularity, they have also presented challenges for incentive planners, from determining the best type of card for recipients, to ensuring security concerns are addressed. As we head fully into the holiday season, Incentive caught up with Jim Atten, president of the Incentive Marketing Association's Incentive Gift Card Council (IGCC) and vice president of sales for Shell Gift Cards/RPG Card Services, to discuss what makes gift cards effective incentive tools this time of year, and best practices that planners should keep in mind.

Why are gift cards a good choice for employers looking to create a motivational boost in their employees around the holidays?

Gift cards can be selected based on what is most likely to create a feeling of value and reward for the employees. This runs the spectrum from practical everyday spending cards for mass merchandise items, groceries, or gas to "open loop" cards that can be used anywhere, to cards for premium retailers and specialty stores.

Gift cards also offer flexibility. With gift cards you have the option of a physical card or a digital card. 

One element that can be very motivational during the holidays is a "pay it forward" gift card. For example, one of our large international clients is planning to give every employee two gift cards of equal value. One for the employee and one the employee can gift to an organization of their choice.

What would you say are the relative advantages of digital versus physical gift cards when it comes to holiday incentives?

Digital cards can be purchased with less lead-time than physical cards, and because they are distributed by email you can make sure everyone in the company gets their holiday gift at the same time. It's also easier to shut down and reissue an electronic code than a physical card.

What are a few best practices you'd recommend in (1) selecting gift cards to give to employees and (2) delivering these cards to them, either as recognition for good work done over the year or as a surprise spot reward?

Whatever your reason for rewarding, be sure to include some type of personalization, whether it's a holiday-designed email with a note of appreciation or an in-person presentation. Some companies purchase digital gift card codes in bulk, and then create a printed page with a link to the gift card code. This way they get the efficiency benefits of digital cards, but also have something physical to hand out which allows them to retain the element of personal thanks. Studies show that the experience increases the perceived value of the reward experience.

How should employers concerned about the security of the cards ensure they are not compromised?

It's best to purchase gift cards from a provider or brand that uses secure fulfillment processes. 

One of the hard and fast rules is to ensure that none of the recipients have changed emails within the last 14 days. That's often more of an issue for consumer rewards than for employees, but it's how cards can quickly get in the wrong hands.