by Alex Palmer | November 18, 2018
The holiday season is here, and for those looking to motivate their employees or channel sales teams, gift cards remain a favorite option for both those giving them and receiving them. But gift cards present no shortage of questions about which are best to use and how best to present them. To help understand how managers and incentive planners can make the most with gift card awards over the holiday season, Incentive spoke with Cindy Mielke, vice president of marketing and sales operations for gift card incentive company GC Incentives, to get her perspective on the topic and best practices for using gift cards. Here are her thoughts on gift cards' benefits and how best to use them.


What are the advantages of awarding employees with gift cards during the holiday season?

It's a real win-win: easier for employers to give than merchandise, for example, and packs a value that employees want to receive over traditional merchandise. We have a calculator that helps show the value of gift card awards. The lead times on gift cards are shorter than other items and many gift-card providers have ways to help you master those fulfillment challenges. For example, we helped one client deliver physical SuperCertificates easily to multiple locations nationwide and another with timing digital GiftPass delivery to the office when the employees arrive at work! In addition, there are so many advances with digital solutions like adding fun video, animation and music. 

What are the types of incentives gift cards can be used for effectively?

Gift cards can be used effectively for all types of incentives. In fact, The Incentive Gift Card Council and the Incentive Research Foundation released a study in late 2017 reporting that the majority of U.S. businesses use gift cards for not one, but several types of programs such as channel incentives, sales incentives, employee rewards and customer incentives/rewards. 

What should a manager/incentive planner keep in mind when awarding gift cards during the holidays?

To get the most impact for your organization, be sure to brand the gift card giving experience. Make sure to draw a correlation between your brand and your employees. Consider creative ways to give out plastic gift cards or find out if your brand can be added to the plastic (note: not all merchants allow this). Our SuperCertificate and GC GiftPass products allow a fully branded experience by including your brand and message on the physical or digital product and then again in the gift card shopping portal, if desired. 

Ninety percent of consumers indicate that they find personalization appealing, according to one study. Keep the experience personal in several ways: First, by offering enough choice to appeal to all demographics. One gift card brand for all may not appeal to some employees; it's important to provide choice so the recipient can begin to think about what experience or item they want and choose a gift card brand that will provide that experience to them. Second, include multimedia to really warm up the digital delivery and enhance engagement. Things like videos, animations, music and personal photos can really enhance the gift experience and increase the value of your gift card award. 

What are the respective advantages of a physical versus digital card during the holidays?

Personalization is important and digital makes it easier with some of the new technologies in the market I mentioned like videos, animations, music and personal photos. But if you have employees who don't have easy access to computers, giving out physical awards makes more sense so be sure you include personal messaging and branding and have their manager, supervisor or company leader hand them out in person with a warm greeting. 

How can a planner navigate security and fraud concerns?

To help with this question, I consulted with GC's vice president of operations and IT, Paul Hubert. He says you should ask your vendor of choice to share their social engineering education policies. The reason? Ninety-three percent of all data security breaches happen via email phishing scams. 

Paul says, "Overall, be sure the company you are working with has robust data security policies and the most up-to-date anti-virus software, two-factor authentication is adopted and is following policies for PCI and data security, not to mention FinCen and anti-money-laundering rules."

At GC, our SuperCertificate and GC GiftPass products create an extra security step over just a gift card. With any lost or stolen SuperCertificate or GiftPass, we can easily cancel and reissue them before any gift cards have been issued or used at point of sale. Even after a gift card has been issued, we have the ability to work with the merchant if the card is lost or stolen to cancel and reissue it, according to individual merchant policies. When you set up an account and order with us, you can track what happens with the account or ask us to audit the account. In doing so, you can see who is ordering (if a multi-member account), how much and what amount and where the orders are being sent.