Dunkin's big eGift card win: A lesson for sales-seeking QSRs

by Brett Narlinger 

QSRs need to get on the E-train, as in eGifts. Dunkin' recently launched a campaign around this kind of product with tremendous success that spilled over into other sales areas for the brand. Here, learn some of the keys to an eGift program's success.

As QSRs continue to weather decreases in dine-in and overall foot traffic, during what can be one of the busiest seasons of the year, more of these brands are turning daily to digital solutions and online sales. And rightfully so, because it can pay major dividends to do so. For instance, Blackhawk Network partner, Dunkin', recently executed a flawless digital strategy pivot using digital gift cards, or eGifts, to engage coffee drinkers around the country, which not only drove in-store traffic, but spread some positivity along the way.

When COVID-19 struck, Americans showed an appetite for supporting frontline workers and everyday heroes. To give people a way to lend a hand without leaving home, Blackhawk Network helped Dunkin' reimagine its eGift program and launch DunkinCoffeeBreak.com.

Quick action captures opportunity

Created in just days, DunkinCoffeeBreak.com gives customers a meaningful way to show appreciation for the heroes in their lives by sending a well-deserved Dunkin' eGift for future enjoyment during a virtual coffee break. In support of these heroes, Dunkin' pledged to donate $1—up to $100,000—for every card purchased from the site to nonprofits that are assisting families, which have been affected by the pandemic.

The results tell the story: Dunkin' saw a 300% increase in online gift card activations — which have also helped boost the company's bottom line and drive in-store traffic despite a shift in dining habits.

Dunkin's foresight to (quickly) focus on a digital eGifting strategy is a tactic other QSRs can easily replicate. Here's a blueprint:

  • Turn to gift cards:Online and mobile shopping surged when social distancing was introduced into our lives. Digital gifting emerged as a multigenerational lifeline — evident by unprecedented growth in recent months. Based on Blackhawk Network's partners' sales data, gift cards sales made directly from a restaurant's or merchant's website since mid-March are up 92% from last year. And with U.S. ecommerce sales expected to climb by 18% this year, according to eMarketer's U.S. Ecommerce 2020 study.
  • It's clear eGifts are here to stay:Just as Dunkin' did, other QSRs can set up online gift card programs to feature eGifts that can be bought and sent online for in-store redemption. Gift cards can also be personalized with a special note for recipients. Gifts don't have to be physical to resonate with those on the receiving end.
  • Create digitally driven promotions:Blackhawk Network research found that a third of 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, according to the Blackhawk data. QSRs can drive online sales — and in-store traffic — by appealing to their customers' increasing tendency to purchase eGifts for themselves, by offering them as part of promotions intended to drive in-store and online sales.
  • Look ahead to the holidays: Gift cards have been the most requested presents in America for more than a decade, according to the National Retail Federation and eGifts are very much on consumers' wish-lists. According to Blackhawk's research and sales data, eCommerce sales last year were up more than 12%, while digital gift cards accounted for nearly 20% of holiday gift card sales. The numbers could be higher this year.
  • Get ahead of the contactless payments curve: People are increasingly seeking out contactless payments methods and this growing trend is compelling QSRs to offer the option at checkout. Fortunately, eGifts bought online can be spent while dining in through apps, by pulling the card up in an email or uploading to a mobile wallet. Nearly 90% of people use some kind of digital wallet and eGifts can be incorporated into these frictionless, contactless payment methods to create faster, more convenient omnichannel experiences customers will appreciate.
  • Enhance discoverability: How easy is it to find your gift card selection on your website, mobile website and app? According to the 2019 Merchant Gift Card E-Commerce Evaluation report, conducted on behalf of Blackhawk, only about half of brands do this well. Discoverability is the first step to eGift sales, so it's worth investing time and resources to ensure your website and app feature clear navigation menus and dedicated gift card webpages.

Evolving consumer behaviors — especially preferences for eating out — will continue to challenge QSRs to find new ways to engage people and drive sales. As millions more Americans migrate online to shop, many QSRs are missing the opportunity to drive online sales via eGifts.

Implementing the aforementioned recommendations can help your QSR capitalize on solutions that satisfy consumers' increasing digital preferences, while driving revenue for your brand.

Brett Narlinger is head of global commerce at Blackhawk Network