by Alex Palmer | December 18, 2018
Merchants are improving their gift-card offerings and the purchase process for customers buying both physical and digital gift cards, according to new research from NAPCO Research and sponsored by CashStar. The second annual "Merchant Gift Card E-commerce Evaluation," which analyzes the consumer and B2B offerings of 100 gift-card purveyors, found that of the 100 merchants it examined, 44 have improved their brand score, while 35 dropped and six stayed the same (15 brands were new this year). 

The study measures the recipient experience with a wide range of brands' digital and physical gift cards, based on more than 100 criteria in categories ranging from discoverability to promotions to checkout. It found that retail categories earned the strongest scores in improvement, with an average of 55 percent, followed by health/beauty brands and home goods, both at 52 percent, and apparel at 51 percent.  
 
As for specific brands, for the second year in a row, Amazon.com has been named the top gift-card merchant, by a score of 79 percent. It was followed by Sephora (75 percent), Williams-Sonoma (74 percent), Bed Bath & Beyond (69 percent) and Best Buy (67 percent).
 
But the report found that, generally, merchants could do more when it comes to corporate and B2B gift-card programs. More than one-third of those analyzed (37 merchants) made no mention of such a program on their websites (though this was an improvement over last year's 41). Only 38 merchants offered both physical and digital gift cards to B2B customers (an improvement over last year's 29).
 
The report spotlighted L.L. Bean as an example of a brand "that's getting B-to-B sales of gift cards right." Among the reasons: Its company website includes plenty of information about discounts for bulk purchases, details about the order process as well as specific reasons why gift cards can boost business. It also allows those placing orders to send gift cards to multiple addresses and choose either digital or physical cards.
 
"Our research showed that merchants are moving in the right direction and making progress in optimizing their e-commerce gift card programs, but it's slow," the report concludes. "The right mix of technology, expertise and a merchant's own internally driven practices is the key to success in today's gift-card market."