Virtual gift cards – great concept and poor execution?

In an article on Digital Transactions, there was a very good piece focused on the reality (and not hype) of the state of virtual gift cards in the prepaid industry. Check it out here. My take is that virtual gift cards is an innovative concept for an old-school industry dominated by plastic cards. What started with paper vouchers (aka e-gift cards), these virtual cards are becoming increasingly mobile. After all, how un-sexy is a printed gift card, with botched printer inks, torn or crumpled paper. The experience for the consumer sending the gift is great, but not so great for those receiving this type of gift. I’d rather receive a nice shiny plastic gift card than an email that says, please print the gift card on your home printer and make sure you have enough paper and ink. I’m exaggerating to make a point but you get the idea. The main focus of this article is that e-commerce retailers like Amazon have been doing virtual gift cards for a while and typically don’t have issues with consumer redemption because there is a unique code that consumers redeem online by copying and pasting it into their check-out page online. For those retailers with an in-store component, it’s a different story. The redemption experience can be a nightmare for a consumer who has printed and crumpled a virtual gift card. Don’t forget the retailer experience. Redeeming a gift card in-store requires a human being on the store side to do something different (instead of swiping a traditional gift card). Store associates haven’t seen enough of these to know what to do and how to deal with issues around scanning bar codes or manually inputting long strings of gift card numbers. Very messy, and often leaves the consumer with a desire for a different type of gift…

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