Virtual gift cards, the new reality

Reward employees with a gift card that is flexible, customizable and easy to administer

By Ron Johnson

In a 2011 survey by the Conference Board of Canada, 97 per cent of member organi­zations had an employee rewards and rec­ognition program. Sounds great, until we learn that “fewer than half of the survey respondents believe their employees are satisfied with the organization's rewards and recognition practices.” Is it time for a new approach?

According to Douglas Garcia, vice-pres­ident of development at Samba Days Gift Experiences in Mississauga, Ont., as Gen X and Gen Y employees grow in prominence within organizations, company rewards and recognition programs are adapting to reflect their digital-first sensibility.

Companies love gift cards because they are flexible, customizable, easy to administer and employees want them. Those advantages are only enhanced with virtual and e-gift cards.

Don Trach operates two wholesale busi­nesses in Edmonton, Alta. Before he signed on to an e-gift card program, he'd spend two days driving around the city picking up gift cards from different operations to suit the needs of his employees and network of dealers. “E-cards are so much simpler,” says Trach, who has been using Moneris GIFTPASS for three years. “We order the passes and give them to employees and dealers and they go online and pick what­ever they want.”

According to Akhil Mittal, director of prod­uct marketing for Moneris, the program works best for medium-sized business that don't have dedicated staff to administer employee rewards. "It really eases the pain," he says. Garcia says this type of program is flexible and easy to administer, but employees must wait a couple of weeks to receive a physical card in the mail before using it. Taking it a step further, virtual gift cards can be printed or used at online retailers immediately after entering the provided code.

"That is the major difference with Gen Y and Gen X employees," says Garcia. "This is the type of stuff they are looking for." The program is affordable to set up because a third party administrator such as Samba or Moneris is paid a commission by retail­ers. The organization is provided access to an online system, employee names an email addresses are uploaded, gift cards are chosen and sent off with customiz­able messages to employee email inboxes. All with a few keystrokes.

But the innovation doesn’t stop there: Mobile wallets get rid of physical cards completely. An example of this is the Starbucks app that allows consumers to use their smartphone to pay for products at outlets. Applications will soon extend to many other monetary transactions. “It is just a more efficient process for doing things,” says Garcia. "It is such a new space, and everyone is trying to carve it up. But for virtual gift cards it is such a natural extension."

Tipsheet

Virtual gift cards can be accessed online and printed off immediately for use.

E-gift cards allow users to go online and select a card from a pool of retailers. That physical card is then shipped to the employee.

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