How to Harness the Power of a Little Gift

A revolutionary retail concept came to life northeast of downtown Dallas in 1985.  That’s when the first Blockbuster Video store opened.  The business boomed and quickly soared to great heights.  At one point, Blockbuster boasted more than 9,000 stores worldwide.

Nothing lasts forever, and some things only last a short while.  As fast as Blockbuster rose, it came crashing down.  The company was unable to keep up with Netflix, Redbox and other competitors with fresher business models.  Blockbuster went kaput in 2013, and today only a handful of franchised stores still carry the Blockbuster name.

While its glory days are long faded, Blockbuster did one thing in particular back in 1994 that made a long-lasting impact on the retail industry:  Blockbuster invented the gift card.

Before Blockbuster’s creative breakthrough, retailers issued “gift certificates,” pieces of paper, instead of those slick, colorful cards with magnetic strips on the back.

It was a stroke of genius.  Gift cards were like a box-office smash hit.  People loved them, and other retail businesses copied the idea.  In 2001, Starbuck’s created the first gift card that could be used over and over again.  Nowadays, gift cards are ubiquitous in the retail industry.  According to Smithsonian magazine, Starbuck’s now sells more than 1,500 gift cards per minute!

Why are gift cards so popular among customers?

They are convenient.  They are easily portable. They allow a shopper to use their gifted dollar amount over the course of multiple purchases or trips.  They are refillable. Choosing gift cards does not require the purchaser to invest the time and energy that are required when purchasing a traditional gift.  People love receiving gift cards, because they can purchase whatever they want on someone else’s dime.

There is yet another reason people enjoy receiving gift cards – They are more valuable than cash.

That’s right; when it comes to perceived value, gift cards are more desirable than plain old cash.  I know that statement sounds crazy.  If I receive cash, I can use it in any way and in any place I desire whereas a gift card limits you to the business that issues it.

Nevertheless, gift cards are more valuable.  Why?  It’s partly because the giver still went to at least a little trouble and customized the gift at least a little bit.  That makes gift cards a smidge more thoughtful than a check written out to you or a fifty-dollar bill stuffed in an envelope.  Another reason might be the card itself – they are designed with colorful, glossy images that appeal to the eye.

Gift cards work so well because they are desirable gifts.  Now I’m not saying it’s a smart move to buy one for your special someone – that might land you in the doghouse!  But for business gifting, the gift card is hard to beat.

Since gift cards are so effective in the professional world, it’s time to use them to your benefit.  Gifting is a very powerful way to make you, your career and your business more successful.  People remember and appreciate the gifts they receive.

If you are trying to motivate your employees, gift them once in a while with a free-lunch gift card to the restaurant near your office.  You want to thank a current client?  Gift them.  Are you trying to smooth over a relationship after you had a conflict with a colleague?  Gift them and send a contrite note as well.  You want to get into a prospective client’s office?  Gift them.  Send a gift card and a personal note customized to that prospective client and then follow up with the phone call a few days later.  Mention that you hope the person received the gift card and ask to talk briefly.  If you took the time to send a gift, most prospects will feel at least somewhat “obligated” to talk for a few minutes.

You want some really good news?

Gift cards don’t have to be high-dollar-value in order to make an impression.  For a routine or small “thank you,” a $10 gift card to a nearby coffee shop should do the trick.  Even client-thank-you and prospective-client-door-opening gift cards don’t have to be terribly expensive.  Depending on the situation and person, something between $25 and $100 should suffice.

Thanks to a now-defunct movie rental business, your work is easier.  Gift cards are a powerful tool for entrepreneurs, sales professionals, managers, and anyone who depends on volunteers.  Employ the power of gifting and reap the rewards.  Carve out a line in your company’s or department’s budget for gift card purchases.  A relatively small investment can bring a mighty return in the form of new clients and retained business.

© 2015, Jeff Beals. All rights reserved.

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