Attention seekers

As plastic gift cards jostle for attention among the aisles and racks of retail stores, Incentive and Motivation’s Gemma Houltby asks what this means for card design.

In the few months I’ve been editor of Incentive and Motivation, I’ve noticed a phenomenon that’s taken hold in many of the retail stores I frequent. Whether I’m browsing a department store or pushing a trolley around my local supermarket, I’ve noticed that gift card malls have gained a growing presence in the retail space, expanding from small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gantries, to taking over whole stretches of wall in some cases.

Less than 18 months ago I was desperately trying to find a decent-sized mall to snap a picture of. Now I am spoilt for choice.

Consumers love gift cards and retailers understand the value of gift cards as a profitable revenue stream. I don’t need to go into the details here, as this magazine and other sources have already given over many column inches to documenting these trends. No, what interested me about this phenomenon was what it actually means for gift cards as physical, designed products.

A product that is new and standalone often creates impact in a retail space through its very existence. When it’s joined by competing products, package design and creative marketing really start to take hold. So does the same ring true for plastic gift cards?

It would seem so, as different brands’ gift cards vie for attention within these malls. The brand itself is, of course, all-important in the purchasing decision, but surely design counts for something?

Paul Hansford, national account manager, Plastic Card Services, says: “As more and more businesses have made the move from gift vouchers to gift cards, the high street became flooded with a standardised design of plastic cards fixed onto the front of rectangular hangers. Increasingly, however, we are finding that brands understand the importance of standing out from the crowd, not only with how the gift card itself looks, but also the way in which it is presented.

“Foils, glitters, embossing and UV finishes (spot gloss on matt finished cards) are increasing in popularity, and, when done well, specialised finishes can really add to the design, making the gift card feel more like a present. Some brands are pushing the boundaries further still, producing shaped cards and carriers – often designed on brand and on a specific theme – these really catch the eye at the till point. B&Q, for example, has used carriers shaped like houses, while Marks & Spencer produced an Easter-themed carrier with a pop-out chick.”

Tracey Harpum, sales manager UK and Ireland, Prepay Solutions, says: “In recent years, we’ve seen a great deal of innovation applied to gift card design and they now make for a very attractive display, either in a retail setting or as part of a B2B presentation pack. We are working in a very exciting period for both plastic and electronic gift cards.”

Defining what constitutes good design is always a subjective question, but one that I asked our experts.

Hansford continues: “Good gift card design is entirely dependent upon what message the brand is trying to convey and who the card is designed to appeal to. Whether it’s designed to target teenage girls buying a gift for a friend or persuading adults to purchase a gift card to celebrate a wedding, how the card is presented will always be key to catching their eye.”

Andrew Johnson, director-general of the UK Gift Card & Voucher Association (UKGCVA), says: “Good gift card design equals something that creates spend-out. Ultimately, it depends on where the gift card is physically on sale; if it’s presented in a gift card mall then it needs to achieve standout among other gift card malls or, similarly, if it’s placed in the store, then it needs to achieve standout there. If the gift card is being sold online then you need to take into account what the card looks like when it appears on the website.”

And it isn’t just the cards that are receiving a makeover, as wallets and carriers are also becoming an intrinsic part of gift card design and appeal. “To increase the appeal of gift cards, brands are increasingly looking to improve and bulk up the card stationery to provide the customer with a high-quality product that reflects the value that the gift card contains. Premium brands in particular are doing this, opting away from the typical single hanger presentation, to a larger product, which incorporates a greetings card or presents the gift card within a stylish case,” says Hansford. “The design of the extras can really add value to the proposition, and can help to convey the brand identity of the business – whether it’s sleek and sophisticated, or young and fun. Some brands aimed at the younger market are providing their cards with ‘pillow case’ boxes, which allow the giver to add in another present too.”

Johnson adds: “You see some retailers that just offer a card, but I think it’s actually the wallet that makes the design. The wallet needs to be on-brand and fit with the design of the card – this is where it becomes a ‘gift’. Gift cards are criticised for not being personal and tangible, so the packaging and wallet can have an impact on how tangible and ‘gifting’ the card feels to the recipient.”

As with any other area of design, styles and techniques come in and out of fashion, and Hansford points out the trends of the moment. “It goes without saying that every brand has different requirements, but there has definitely been an increase in the number of customers requesting foil or effect finishes. Depending on how these are utilised, it is possible to create sleek, minimalistic designs that convey a high-value card, or ‘loud’ designs that catch the customer’s eye during the festive season.

“Regarding presentation of the gift card, there has been an increase in requests for L-shaped carriers. This design allows the shop to hang cards, but gives the purchaser the added value of incorporating a greetings card. Assembly is easy and can be done at the till simply by removing the perforated hanger section from the top of the greetings card, before inserting the gift card into the designated slot, and slipping the greetings card into an envelope.”

Design is important to the B2C sector, but what about B2B? Johnson says: “In B2B it is good to show designs, but design is not necessarily the most influential factor. Research shows that, from a design perspective, gift cards need to have more appeal to the buyer than the receiver because, to a degree, once the receiver has been given the card, they are instantly more engaged with the brand and are looking for ways to spend their credit.

“We’re pleased to see that gift card innovation is moving forward and that retailers are taking card design very seriously. Certainly, those UKGCVA members with gift card printers are providing additional services to assist in design – and I would urge retailers to take advantage of this.”

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