by Kate Mulcrone | July 16, 2013
Although some print catalogs are still beloved by program managers and recipients — L.L. Bean’s Direct to Business catalog, for example — online catalogs are all the rage, offering greater flexibility for both retailers and program managers, not to mention recipients themselves. These days, many retailers and catalog merchants are going with both print and online catalogs in order to serve the broadest population of reward-earners. Outdoors outfitter Cabela’s has both a print catalog and a hyperlinked digital edition available on its website.

“We don’t do much in the way of catalogs anymore,” says Dennis Borst, president and chief operating officer at the Patriot Marketing Group, which operates as Foot Locker Gift Card Sales. “We have over 2,000 stores, plus the website, and we’ve found that people really like to take the gift card into the store to see all the brands, all the deals, and all the colors. In-store redemptions make up more than 90 percent of our total redemptions.” He adds, “This business has changed. I’ve been around since the very beginning of gift certificates more than 25 years ago, and the biggest change of all has been in the last three years with the introduction of digital eCards.”

One advantage of eCards is more flexibility and faster turnaround times for retailers. “It used to be that retailers would allow one to two orders a month from companies, in bulk. There would be minimum dollar requirements tied to them, and by the time you logged the numbers and shipped the actual gift cards out it could be more than a week before they’re received.” With eCards, of course, the turnaround time is much faster, often as little as 20 minutes. 

Although Foot Locker was a bit late getting into the digital side of retailing, the addition of online channels was a boon to the bottom line.  “It only took us losing one huge sale because we didn’t have eCards to make us decide to implement them as quickly as we could. We knew that with all the new technologies, like smartphones, we needed to be able to deliver rewards in a timely manner and not be tied to minimum denomination and purchase requirements — all the rules we had back in the ‘old days,’” says Borst. 

Although digital catalogs have largely replaced physical ones, plastic cards and eGift Cards coexist harmoniously. “Digital is growing fast, starting from a fairly low base compared to plastic,” says Jim Leroux, president of the Des Plains, IL-based gift card reseller SVM. “What’s interesting is that we haven’t seen any decreases on the plastic side, while digital has grown.” 

Program managers should expect even more emphasis on digital development in the future. “What we’re being asked to do now is develop delivery through smartphones and QR codes to allow the end user to receive instant offers and redemptions,” says Borst. “Companies are targeting younger audiences with these promotions, and Foot Locker is ideal for this particular segment.”