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Research by the American Retail Federation reveals that gift cards are the No. 1 gift that people want to receive for special occasions or holidays. The following frequently asked questions (FAQs) cover four categories that can help you better understand how gift cards work and how to use them to grow your business. We explain how gift cards—specifically the made-in-the-USA cards from eCard Systems—can expand your brand and increase your sales.

General Questions About Gift Cards

Q | How do gift cards work?
Q | What happens to the money when a gift card is used?
Q | Why are gift cards better than paper gift certificates?

Questions About the eCard Systems Gift Card Program

Q | What is the eCard Systems program?
Q | Is there a contract term or additional costs and fees?
Q | Can equipment from the eCard Systems program work with my current equipment?
Q | Can a mix of iPads and terminals be used for the same card program in the same location?
Q | Do eCard Systems’ cards swipe through a POS credit card swiper?
Q | What type of reporting comes with the program?
Q | Will eCard Systems’ programs work with iPad or Android POS systems?

Design and Manufacturing of Gift Cards

Q | What is the standard card size?
Q | How should card artwork be prepared?
Q | What file formats are usable?
Q | Can eCard Systems design my card?
Q | How quickly does it take artwork to be created?
Q | What is the difference between a card with a PVC finish and a UV finish?
Q | Where are eCard Systems gift cards manufactured?

Technical Issues

Q | Can an existing card’s balance be transferred from one gift card provider to another provider?
Q | Why should a gift card program be separate from credit card processing?
Q | When should cards be reordered?
Q | Can additional funds be added to a gift card?
Q | What is the difference between an open loop and closed loop gift card?
Q | Can a gift card program be used at multiple locations?

General Questions About Gift Cards

Q | How do gift cards work?

A | First, let’s start with a simple definition and explanation.

A gift card is a prepaid laminated card that is sold by a merchant (that’s you!) to be used either as an alternative to cash or given as a present. Gift cards are the second most favorite gift for holidays, according to research from the American Retail Federation. Only clothes and accessories (59%) are more popular than gift cards (56%).

Now, back to the question, “How do gift cards work?”

(1) A merchant can order cards from eCard Systems that are seasonal, topical or custom-designed with a store’s logo on them. (We even have designers on staff who can help you design a custom card.)

(2) At this point in the process, there’s no money embedded in the card. All that the merchant is purchasing from eCard Systems are the physical cards, with the option to purchase envelopes, card rack displays or other merchandising tools to help attract more customers if desired.

(3) Once you have your cards set up, customers can come to your shop, restaurant or website and purchase one (or several) cards. When the clerk swipes the card at your point of sale (POS) register or device—just like they do with any customer transaction—the money is transferred to their card from their payment provider.

(4) From here on, it works just like cash. Voila!

Q | What happens to the money when a gift card is used?

A | Unlike credit cards, a gift card transaction only keeps track of the money spent using a specific gift card. When a customer pays for your product with a gift card, the value recorded on the card diminishes. However, a merchant can offer to reload more money onto the gift card. For example, to encourage repeat visits, you may want to offer promotional incentives, such as adding $5 extra to a purchase of a $25 card. (Your POS provider’s equipment and information can show you how to set this up.)

Q | Why are gift cards better than paper gift certificates?

A | In an earlier era, merchants hired printers to create paper gift certificates. That was a clever idea since it allowed the gift recipient to choose their own gift for special occasions like birthdays and holidays. Gift cards are today’s version of that idea—except with some modern technology embedded. Gift cards are much better than paper certificates for two big reasons: their size and convenience. The ability to reload them with additional funds is also a selling point. And have we mentioned how popular they are?

Questions About the eCard Systems Gift Card Program

Q | What is the eCard Systems program?

A | Some merchants only need to purchase printed and encoded gift cards, while others need a third-party gift card program with an array of gift card-related services and products. eCard Systems provides both solutions.

For a small monthly fee, the eCard Systems program offers unlimited transactions and reloadable cards. The pricing is transparent, with no hidden fees.

Merchants who use the eCard Systems program can log in 24/7 for access to their sales performance records. And, best of all, eCard Systems’ world-class customer service team is always standing by to provide you with service from real, live experts.

Here are three reasons a merchant may need the services of our gift card program:

  • You’re not currently operating within a traditional point-of-sale (POS) system: We can provide you with a stand-alone gift card processing solution and card provider.
  • You have multiple locations running different POS systems: You want a single enterprise-wide gift card processing solution.
  • You have a unique need: We’ve seen just about every challenge a merchant or POS provider could dream up.

Q | Is there a contract term or additional costs and fees?

A | Your agreement with eCard Systems is month-to-month, and you can cancel at any time with no cancellation fee. There are also no per-transaction fees, technical support fees or other hidden costs. Other than the cost of your cards and/or card holders or the other products you purchase, the flat monthly or yearly program fee will be the only cost you pay.

Q | Can equipment from the eCard Systems program work with my current equipment?

A | eCard Systems’ cards are certified to run on various credit card terminals, iPads, PCs and other devices. However, some older equipment may not have sufficient memory or processing capacity to run more than one application, and some POS systems do not yet have compatible interfaces. In that case, an inexpensive standalone terminal can be used for processing gift card transactions, or an iPad may be used for the most complete and capable functionality.

Q | Can a mix of iPads and terminals be used for the same card program in the same location?

A | Yes! You do not need to use the same equipment within a store location or across many locations. Each device is independently tied to your card program account.

Q | Do eCard Systems’ cards swipe through a POS credit card swiper?

A | The eCard app is compatible with most Magtek and IDTech card swipers; however, it is not necessary. Your eCard Systems cards will each have a special QR code and/or barcode on the back that is scanned directly to the app through the built-in camera or handheld scanner. This allows you to use the eCard app even when the card swiper is proprietary.

Q | What type of reporting comes with the program?

A | Merchants have online administrative access to their card account, which allows them to log in to run a variety of reports including transaction summaries and card balance reports. An end-of-day totals report can also be generated from the card terminal at the point-of-sale (POS) to card sales/redemptions within POS system records.

Q | Will eCard Systems’ programs work with iPad or Android POS systems?

A | eCard Systems’ gift card program is integrated with the ShopKeep and Clover point-of-service (POS) systems. But we also have a standalone app that can easily be used alongside most iPad or Android systems such as POS Lavu, NCR Silver, Talech or Breadcrumb. A simple 4-finger swipe toggles between the eCard app and the POS app. By running alongside the POS app, you are free to switch to a different POS at any time without changing anything about your gift or loyalty card programs.

Design and Manufacturing of Gift Cards

Q | What is the standard card size?

A | Most cards are the same size as a credit card: 3 3/8” x 2 1/8” x 0.30 mil (thickness). Cards can also be produced in custom shapes and sizes.

Q | How should card artwork be prepared?

A | Full-bleed artwork should be exactly 1/16” larger than the card size (3.5″ x 2.25″). The magnetic stripe is placed 3/16” from top edge of card. A 2-track mag is 5/16″ wide, a 3-track mag is 7/16.” It is recommended that all type and other essential elements be placed at least 1/8″ away from the card edge.

Download the Graphics Specs PDF here.

Q | What file formats are usable?

A | Electronic files are the preferred format for submitting card designs for production. We currently accept digital files for Apple and PC platforms created with any of the following programs:

  • Quarkxpress
  • Adobe Indesign
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Illustrator

Q | Can eCard Systems design my card?

A | Yes! Using your logo and/or other artwork, or photos from our image library, complete card design services range from $20 to $50. Basic layout is free.

Q | How quickly does it take artwork to be created?

A | Once acceptable artwork has been received, a card design will be developed and an electronic proof will be provided via email usually within 24 hours or the next business day.

Q | What is the difference between a card with a PVC and a UV finish?

A | Those great-looking gift cards you see from top-tier merchant brands are premium quality, offset printed cards with a thin but durable sheet of clear PVC. Heat is applied to the PVC to seal the card and protect the printing. eCard Systems’ specialty is providing such a high-end, high-quality, made-in-the-USA PVC card at a price not much above that of an inferior UV card. A UV card may look great when first made, but it isn’t as durable over time. Also, it is normally applied only to the front of the card. Anytime you see lower pricing or faster production time from our competitors, it’s probably a UV card.

*NOTE: Cards with solid black backgrounds or other dark solid colors will benefit greatly by using our satin matte finish. We recommend it for resisting fingerprints and surface scratches that can adversely affect the look of the gloss finish.

Q | Where are eCard Systems gift cards manufactured?

A | Our manufacturing facility and staff are located in Brentwood, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville. Our cards are completely made in the USA.

Technical Issues

Q | Can an existing card’s balance be transferred from one gift card provider to another provider?

A | Most likely, yes. (But if you face this issue, it’s best to give us a call so we can discuss precisely what you are trying to accomplish.) Here’s a good indicator that the balance can be transferred: if the cards use at least a 12-digit number and you can obtain a current card balance report from the existing point-of-service (POS) processor. Cards that are numbered with less than 12 digits may be used or re-encoded by eCard Systems to work with the new system. (Contact us for more details.)

Q | Why should a gift card program be separate from credit card processing?

A | Primarily, credit card processors offer gift card processing as a way to tie a merchant to their credit card services. Here’s why: A merchant may want to switch to a new credit card processor several times over the years. Unfortunately, if you tie your gift card processing to your credit card processing, it will be difficult to change to a new processor because that would mean your customers’ gift cards in circulation will no longer be usable.

Keeping the gift card program processing separate from your credit card processing allows you to change programs as often as you wish without your customers even noticing.

Q | When should cards be reordered?

A | Normal card production time is 10 to 12 business days from proof approval to ship date. Allowing a few days for shipping time, it’s best to order cards about three weeks prior to when you need them. Seven- to eight-day rush service is also available. Larger, multi-location merchants may want to produce an extra supply of cards. We can store such supplies for immediate shipment as locations order them.

Q | Can additional funds be added to a gift card?

A | Yes. Gift cards may be reloaded as many times as you wish. And it’s a great way to get customers back into your business. For example, you may want to offer an incentive to encourage customers to reload their cards.

Be creative! Give customers $55 for a $50 reload, or offer customers a free product or service with every reload. The “add-value” feature provides many marketing opportunities to enhance customer relationships, increase purchase frequency, and build brand awareness.

Q | What is the difference between an open loop and closed loop gift card?

A | Traditionally, there are two types of gift cards: open loop and closed loop. A retail customer may never ask this question, but the topic may come up when speaking with a POS provider. Here are the simple answers: An open loop gift card (think Visa gift or prepaid card) can be used almost anywhere. A closed loop gift card can only be redeemed at the merchant whose name is on the card. Almost all gift cards available at small merchants, restaurants, etc. are closed loop.

Q | Can a gift card program be used at multiple locations?

A | Yes, but it requires some assistance to set up. For example, franchise merchants with multiple locations often use a common system to keep track of cards purchased at one location and redeemed at another.

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