by Alex Palmer | February 06, 2018

Merchants' gift card e-commerce programs could be doing a lot more when it comes to the B2B market, and while retail gift-card programs offer engaging customer journeys on desktop, their mobile interfaces leave much to be desired. These were among the findings of a new, comprehensive evaluation of gift card programs' e-commerce experiences, conducted by NAPCO Research and sponsored by CashStar, a Blackhawk Network business.

The "Merchant Gift Card eCommerce Evaluation" examined more than 100 major merchants on almost 100 criteria, including discoverability, payment options, buyer communication, delivery options, packaging, and customer service. Out of all the merchants, which included brands in industries ranging from home goods to airlines to apparel, the top spot was taken by Amazon, which received 71 percent of the total 200 points available in the evaluation of its e-commerce offerings. Close behind were L.L. Bean and Macy's, each of which earned a score of 70 percent, followed by Best Buy (68 percent), Sephora (67 percent), REI (65 percent), and Texas Roadhouse (65 percent). 

Overall, the researchers found plenty of room for improvement in many areas of merchants' gift card e-commerce programs. Looking specifically at B2B gift cards, 41 of the brands reviewed had no mention of a B2B program on their websites, while just 29 offered both physical and digital cards to this market. At least 30 merchants offered digital cards, but six of these did not make clear whether these cards were available to the B2B market. The report spotlighted J.C. Penney's as a standout in its B2B program (in terms of findability and visual design of the program information). However, it concluded that "there's still lots of room for improvement in the B2B gift card space. 

The overall average across all merchants on the desktop purchase experience was 49 percent of the points available, but the mobile web purchase experience earned only 35 percent. The purchase experience in the mobile app received the lowest score of the channels evaluated, with just 21 percent of the available points.

"Even for merchants that sell in all available channels, the mobile experience isn't generally at parity with their desktop experience," wrote the report's authors. "Only three merchants -- Hudson's Bay, Wal-Mart, and Northern Tool & Equipment -- have mobile purchase experiences that score equal to or better than their desktop experiences, and scores on average for the 36 omnichannel merchants drop from 59 percent on desktop to 47 percent on mobile web and 45 percent on mobile app."

The report also spotlighted the need for greater personalization in gift card offerings. This was particularly pronounced for the purchase of physical gift cards, with 40 merchants offering only one card design, and a number of others offering "just a few occasion-neutral, generic designs." Eight of the brands reviewed did not give buyers the option of adding a personal message. Another six gave the option of a personal message -- but only when cards were ordered on desktop, and 12 of them kept the message length very short or spread across multiple lines. 

But the findings did not only turn up areas for improvement. Merchants overall received high marks for the expansive payment options accepted, including PayPal, private-label credit cards, Visa Checkout, and Apple Pay. Overall, recipient experience was strong as well, with a median score of 60 percent across all brands on points such as email alerts and mobile experience of receiving the gift card.

But when it comes to B2B sales, the report urged merchants to do more than they are.

"Despite the opportunity that the B2B sale of gift cards present, many merchants have yet to take action," wrote the authors. "In addition to making it easy for bulk buyers to find your B2B program on gift card landing pages, regularly evaluate the market for opportunities and partnerships that align with your brand, then proactively market to potential customers through targeted messaging, outbound sales, marketing promotions and ongoing account management."

The full e-book can be viewed and downloaded here.