by Kate Mulcrone | March 13, 2013
With the economy still in limbo, gift cards are more popular than ever for use in incentive reward programs. Seventy-six percent of respondents to the Incentive “Gift Card IQ” survey, released in September 2012, are currently using gift cards in their reward programs. One rather surprising finding was that only 10 percent of program managers are purchasing their cards from gift card resellers. 

Far from “clearinghouses” for unwanted plastic inventory, resellers are experts at tailoring rewards to their clients’ needs. Practically speaking, this can mean anything from embossing winners’ names on traditional plastic cards to developing sophisticated web portals for redemption. Many resellers, like Portland, ME-based CashStar, for example, offer e-gift cards that can be personalized with photos, images, text, and even video. National Gift Card, a reseller based in Elgin, IL, can customize gift card programs’ websites with companies’ brands, themes, and internal marketing messages.

Resellers also have their thumbs on the pulse of industry trends, so to speak. “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. The real question is whether digital is cannibalizing plastic or incrementally increasing. Since we see gift card volumes expanding generally, there’s really an opportunity for both to grow.” 

Although resellers are constantly adding new retailers to their card inventories, “practical” gift cards dominate. “We saw a lot of everyday-use cards over the past year, as the economy hasn’t been so great,” says Leroux. “We’re seeing a lot of gas cards go out, as well as those for Wal-Mart or other grocery chains.” 

Incentivized employee health and wellness programs are a relatively new concept that is quickly gaining traction, and another area where resellers’ expertise can save program managers time and money. Minneapolis, MN-based Hallmark Business Connections is among the resellers who can create scalable, trackable wellness engagement programs for a company. The company’s platform allows end users to configure wellness programs to be as simple or as complex as needed, as well as generate reports on program usage and track which activities draw the most participants among their workforces. SVM’s Leroux noted an uptick in wellness programs in the past year, and expects the trend to continue.

Leroux also predicts that mobile redemption of e-gift cards will pick up in the next few years. “While there are some things going on now from a mobile perspective, there’s a lot more that can be done so that companies can improve engagement with the end user.”