by Alex Palmer | May 08, 2018

Buyatab has been in the digital gift card space for almost nine years, helping companies enhance their gift card technology and grow their overall programs. That's meant spending a lot of time getting merchants that are used to physical gift cards more comfortable with digital -- and ensuring their customers and reward recipients love it too. The company has worked on efforts ranging from enhancing Fairmont Hotels & Resorts' loyalty program to getting recipients of a Boston Pizza gift card to continue returning to the chain after they've spent their balance. 

The company shares these insights at its annual Buyatab Summit, held this year on June 4-5 in Vancouver, Canada. This year's day of networking and education covers topics such as "Past, Present, and Future of e-gift Cards," "The Future of Gift Collaboration," and "Real Time Employee Recognition." Ahead of the event, Incentive spoke with Buyatab Founder Matias Marquez and what the company is seeing in the gift card space.

With all that's happening in the gift card space, what would you say is Buyatab's main priorities right now?

Our vision is that we think the world is going digital and in the future you'll be tapping your phone for all your payments, transit passes, fobs to your building; and in a world like that, it will be kind of strange for someone to give you a physical gift card -- whether as a gift or reward. We understand that physical gift cards are fundamentally not broken and will play a role for a while, but we're working closely with merchants on improving the digital experience, innovating them into things like Apple Pay and Google Pay, enhancing them with notifications and enhancing the information that comes back to merchants -- all in the spirit of transitioning them from physical to digital.

Would you say that consumers are already there in making the transition?

When it comes to self-use -- and that's where a lot of incentives play a role -- we're seeing high adoption rates for digital, where you want that card immediately and don't want to wait for it to be delivered in the mail. In most cases of self-use, it's that someone is getting a prize or reward with the option to get a gift card, and having the immediacy of a digital gift card, it gets it to them right away, which they like. But it also opens up new use cases -- if you're at the brick-and-mortar location of the retailer and you can say, "I'll redeem my reward points right now and get the card immediately so I can spend it here." This grows the number of redemptions.

On the gifting side of it, consumers still choose physical a lot of the time. We're still seeing the adoption of digital, but not at the same speed as in self-use. 

What about merchants -- are they eager to innovate in the digital space with their gift cards?

They're very customer-focused and for them it comes down to, "what do customers want and what can we do to make our customers' lives better?" Now, we've had to work with them and innovate a lot to make the digital experience better so consumers are the ones asking for it, but the merchants are pretty agnostic, and will give their consumers whatever it is they are asking for. When we show up and say, "We've improved the digital card and added an integration to Apple Pay," they say, "Great, more of my consumers are probably going to want this."

Consumers redeeming their points or buying a gift card for someone are likely on a desktop doing that transaction. When the person receives the card, it swings the other way -- when someone receives a digital gift card, they are almost always viewing that card first on a mobile device. So as a merchant, I care a lot about how that looks on the mobile device and the options the end user has on mobile. 

The recipient experience is highly mobile and there are things we can do via mobile that a physical gift card just can't do. For example, a digital card can have a live balance on it or have the card tailored specifically to the type of phone the recipient is using. If it's an iPhone, it's rendered specifically to an iPhone. The time it takes the card to load is critical. We can add things like animation or a "Thank" button to respond to the gift, which she can engage with the card, or if she wants to store it, she can store it right into her Google Wallet or Apple Pay. When you start adding all those values, that's where you get recipients saying, "the next time you send me a gift card, send me a digital one." 

We provide the merchant tools to allow buyers to easily acquire their card. So if someone wants to put a Whole Foods card into an incentive program, that program manager can connect to an API of ours, receive those cards in different ways to make it easier. 

What are you most excited about in the next year or two and what opportunities do you see?

We are seeing merchants really accept that the world is going digital. In previous years, they'd offer digital cards to see how they do. Now, merchants are of the view that digital will eventually become the dominant form and physical gift cards will become legacy. That's exciting because that means they will drive more awareness and think more strategically about their gift cards, now that merchants have bought in.