Our Window to Main Street: How Gift Cards Keep on Giving
By Benjamin Berg / CEO
As retail and payment systems industries navigate big events – first the pandemic and now inflation exacerbated by a war – they’re forced to make changes big and small across the board, adapting to one new development after another. We, as a gift card processor and manufacturer for small merchants, have a front row seat to how merchants have and are continuing to change and thrive.
As Blackhawk Network, a renowned payment systems company who publishes payment trends, reported earlier this year, gift cards are continuing to gain momentum and expected to continue well into 2026.
- During the pandemic, communities came to the aid of Main Street merchants using gift cards as “micro loans” or a small Infusion of cash for their frequented local proprietors. As a result, many merchants have continued to promote gift card programs well past the holiday season. Patrons got used to using gift cards in new ways and it stuck.
- More recently, gift cards have served as a stopgap for inventory shortages and shipping issues. Gift cards are shoring up sales if products aren’t on shelves.
- As consumers have become even more digital friendly through pandemic shifts, there’s a growing preference for an omnichannel approach to gift cards. People increasingly want to use gift cards in-store, on websites, and through their mobile applications – without having to think much about it. Ease of use is expected.
- And finally, with inflation gripping the country in a choke hold, we expect gift card holders to take advantage of remaining balances or redeeming gift cards that are yet unused.
At the beginning of the current arc of events, big innovators in the payments and independent software vendors spaces were already playing a role in disrupting and pushing the whole industry forward. The pandemic pushed it faster.
Various POS systems built easier access to digital gift cards while others partnered with delivery companies to accommodate contactless pickup and deliveries. Everyone got extremely creative to address the needs of the moment all along the supply chain.
This is a complex industry with changes happening at a breakneck pace with new aspects between providers, processors, merchants and customers bubbling up every day. We look at those developments with curiosity and a “what if” mindset to keep growing and improving. And we must be willing to learn from others in the remotest of places, irrespective of where they fall within that supply chain.
I think changes over the next 10 years will continue to be driven by the demand for consumer convenience. Consumers want the ability to pay for goods and services from anywhere – phone, tablet, laptop, desktop — and redeem anywhere at any time. For this to happen, systems along the payment continuum have to connect at multiple points and often even across multiple companies. Fulfilling the demands of the “pay anywhere, anytime” mindset affects merchant operations on a whole new level. Think about what that does to inventory management, forecasting, and resource management and the level of synchronization required!
Gift card sales continued to grow throughout the pandemic through creative solutions to unanticipated challenges. Sales are still growing even amid inflation. This is likely just the beginning of a transformational time for payments and point of sale systems and how they interrelate with service providers like ours.