The Internet has given birth to a variety of new ways for companies to attract and gain new customers such as opt-in emails, LinkedIn, Facebook groups and Twitter. While these social networking tools have proven to be successful in promoting a particular brand or product, marketers also need to take a more creative approach in communicating with their customers in order to obtain their email addresses - prime marketing contact information. Online gift cards offer a multitude of tools and features for retailers to weave into their marketing and customer engagement mix and ultimately generate more quality customer email addresses for more targeted and personal promotions.
Thinking outside the box will open up a whole new world for marketers to improve their virtual gift card programs to gather both gift card giver and recipient email addresses as well as build up their overall Internet and social media presence. Whether it is using gift cards as rewards for participating in an online survey or driving customers from online into the store with gift card incentives, here are a few examples of how retailers are capitalizing on this unique trend:
Ask Your Online Fans
Uno Chicago Grill has more than 200 franchises worldwide, many of which are located in more than 30 states across the U.S. The restaurant chain uses social media to occasionally poll their 12,000 Facebook fans and 400 Twitter followers for information ranging from pop culture, favorite sports teams to questions about customers' most beloved Uno's menu items and what words best describe the restaurant.
The casual dining chain first introduced the online gift card option as a way to give its customers a convenient way to shop online. They tested the campaign's popularity with both active communities, and simultaneously posted this query to both online audiences, "Who would you give an Uno Chicago Grill virtual card to? Did you know that you can order them online?"
The question elicited a positive response from almost 30 Facebook fans and demonstrates how integrating social media with online gift cards can lead to gift card sales development. When these 30 Uno's fans purchase online gift cards, Uno's is now able to capture their email addresses as well as the gift card recipients' and send them both relevant restaurant promotions based on their previous activity, thus maximizing the potential of the purchase.
Let Customers Interact and Play
One of the world's largest retailers specializing in home improvement goods and services decided instead of using social media, they would make the online gift card transaction more interactive with a Webcam. When one of its customers receives a virtual gift card, that person is asked to print out the card and visit an exclusive Web site. The gift card recipient then inputs the gift card dollar amount and holds the gift card up to a Webcam. A snapshot of the person's image will then appear on the screen along with an image of a crate. When the customer physically jiggles the card in front of the Webcam, products that fall within that price range of that specific card will fall into the crate.
This idea benefits the brand threefold. First, since more than 70 percent of consumers spend more than 11 hours per week online, they now avoid sifting through an online catalog for affordable gifts.* Second, the brand solidifies its relationship with that customer thro ugh a unique online experience. Finally, the retailer sends these virtual gift cards via email and now these customers are likely to be more receptive to future emails from this company because they had such a positive experience.
Drive Online and In-Store Traffic
Multichannel retailers use virtual gift cards to help solve a common problem - driving traffic to both their physical store as well as their web site. For example, providing consumers with an incentive or offer on top of their gift card purchase drives the customer back into the store and encourages further purchases. Retailers can also use gift cards as rewards for surveys or polls on their site. A retailer can poll their fan base about their products and customer service, and instantly reward respondents with an e-gift card redeemable at their store. In addition, this strategy is particularly helpful at generating and capturing email data that the retailer can then use to execute promotions and offers.
The Internet has given marketers a new set of tools to connect with their customers, such as Facebook and Twitter. However, merely having an online presence is not enough to effectively get in touch with and engage current and new customers. Brand marketers should have a creative approach to their online communication and harness the tools available from the new generation of online gift cards to retain and gain new customers.
*Source: Holiday e-Gifting Survey, October 2009
About the Author
David Douglas Stone (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founder and chief executive officer of CashStar, a virtual online-gifting company. Previously, Stone worked for American Express, where he originated the idea for the world's first prepaid currency, the American Express Gift Cheque. For more information about CashStar's online-gifting capabilities, please visit www.cashstar.com.
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