4 best practices in digital gifting that rebuild consumer experiences

Brett Narlinger, head of global commerce at Blackhawk Network, details why now is the time for retailers to rebuild customer experience around digital, especially when it comes to gifting.

The global health pandemic has radically transformed shopping habits in ways no one imagined. Gone are the days of in-store visits for many — and lying ahead is more time spent and other shopping behaviors once prominent only among Gen Z.

Online and mobile shopping habits spread like wildfire when social distancing was introduced, and digital gifting emerged as a multigenerational lifeline — evident by unprecedented growth in recent months. For instance, based on Blackhawk Network's partners' sales data, gift cards sold directly from a restaurant or merchant's own website since mid-March are up 92 percent from 2019. And with U.S. e-commerce sales expected to climb by 18 percent this year , the rapid adoption of digital gift cards, or eGifts, is here to stay.

If you haven't already, now is the time to rebuild consumer experiences around digital — particularly for gifting. And there's more to consider in your retail strategy than just adding gift cards to your online store; here are four best practices to help flex your ecommerce muscles and deepen consumer relationships.

1. Enhance discoverability. How easy is your gift card selection to find across your website, mobile website and mobile app? According to Blackhawk Network's 2019 Merchant Gift Card E-Commerce Evaluation report, which assesses gift card programs from 150 top brands, only about half of brands do this well, and YOY improvement was minimal — leaving plenty of room for improvement. Discoverability is the first step to encouraging a shopper to purchase your gift card. Consider investing time and resources into organic searches for your gift card program, and when consumers do visit your website or app, don't make them hunt for your gift cards. Instead, include clear navigation from the homepage and dedicated gift card webpages in your website and app menus.

2. Get ahead of the contactless payments curve. Contactless payment methods like mobile wallets have finally broken through, compelling retailers to offer the option at checkout. A recent study on remote payments found that mobile devices are the most popular device for online shopping by a wide margin. Including frictionless, contactless payment options creates a quicker, more convenient experience and spares consumers from the tedious process of having to add all their payment and address information for each purchase. And as an added bonus, when shoppers begin to return in-store, accepting contactless payments will help create a more seamless omnichannel experience they will appreciate.

3. Cater to a growing self-use market. A notable change in the gift card industry has been the rise in consumer purchases of cards for themselves — not just for gifting. Blackhawk Network research found that a third of surveyed consumers bought a gift card for themselves in the last year so they could reap the benefits of promotions, rack up extra loyalty points or earn rewards. A third of consumers who reported buying gift cards for self-use preferred egifts. Streamlining the purchasing process for digital gift cards has become a must for retailers. If you can, give online and mobile shoppers the option to skip steps on the checkout page that are necessary only for gifting as opposed to self-use, such as adding recipient's information or personalized messaging. Consumers value a checkout process that's fast and easy.

4. Focus on post-purchase customer engagement. Post-purchase experience can't be underestimated. This is typically the critical point when a customer either raves or rants about a recent purchase or gift. Retailers benefit from understanding positive and negative feedback on buyers' and recipients' experiences — and can incorporate feedback into their gift card e-commerce programs to win over prospective customers and build loyalty among existing ones. Unfortunately, our research found that only five merchants actually included a survey link in their order confirmation emails and only 16 merchants asked gift card buyers to complete a survey, write a review, or rate their purchase experience. Consider offering incentives like contactless rewards that consumers can redeem digitally to further encourage e-commerce engagement.

Retailers' gift card e-commerce programs are no longer just nice to have. They have become necessities in keeping up with the "new normal." Optimizing your program will be a marathon, not a sprint, and leveraging these four best practices can help you create and manage a gift card e-commerce program that best rebuilds digital customer experience and deepens consumer relationships.

Brett Narlinger, is head of global commerce at Blackhawk Network