Gifting Trends
0 min read

When Are Gift Cards the Best Choice in Business?

June 5, 2023
When Are Gift Cards the Best Choice in Business?

When it comes to corporate gifting, the options can seem endless. From personalized merch to gourmet baskets, there's no shortage of choices. However, there’s one hotly contested item that could have you wringing your hands about whether to gift it or not—the gift card.

A gift card is inherently versatile and widely accepted in a variety of contexts. It’s not just a go-to for friends and family who simply can’t choose what to get you, but it’s an easy choice for gifting employees, rewarding customers, and incentivizing leads in the corporate world.

With its flexibility and appeal, a gift card can be the perfect gift in many situations (and it can be the perfectly wrong gift in others). Let's explore when a gift card is a Grade A gift choice and when you should choose something else for your surprise.

5 Occasions When Gift Cards Are a Great Choice

Gift cards have a lot going for them. They’re go-to last-minute gifts, open loop cards can be used practically anywhere, and they can live in both our physical and online shopping worlds. All of this flexibility has led to consistent growth in popularity for more than 15 years in the US. But despite the long list of plusses on gift cards’ side, they’re still a hotly debated gift.

A bar graph showing gift card sales in the US from 2006 to 2021, growing from around $80 billion to nearly $175 billion.
Source: Statista

Gift cards have a reputation for being a thoughtless gift—something you only grab off the endcap at the grocery store when you’ve run out of ideas, options, or time. They’re also a highly forgettable gift. Unlike a set of golf clubs or a new purse, gift cards often get slipped into a junk drawer or fall to the bottom of a bag, never to be seen again.

More than half of Americans have forgotten to use a gift card, adding up to more than $15 billion in unused cards in the US alone. So while the intention behind a gift card may be flexibility and convenience, the reality is that they can easily turn into the most forgettable gifts of all.

So, when is a good time to resort to a gift card when it comes to doing business? How can you show appreciation and care while skirting thoughtlessness? These are our top reasons to dole out digital gift cards:

1. On-the-fly Recognition of Employee Achievements

As a business, it's important to build a culture that frequently acknowledges and celebrates the achievements and milestones of your employees. Whether it's reaching sales targets, completing a significant project, or even doing a good deed in the workplace, gift cards can be a great way to show appreciation at a consistent cadence.

Unlike more personalized gifts or experiences, gift cards can be given on the fly and show instant gratitude for the achievement at hand. There’s no waiting around or delayed celebration when gift cards are in play.

A gift card also allows employees to choose something they actually want, making the gift more personal and meaningful in that way. Plus, it gives them the freedom to treat themselves or their loved ones, reinforcing a positive work culture and fostering employee joy.

2. Easily Offer Incentives and Rewards

Incentives and rewards are powerful motivators in business. A nice gift card carrot at the end of a stick can be enticing for both internal initiatives and external campaigns.  

Like we just touched on, when employees go above and beyond, meeting or exceeding expectations, a gift card can serve as a tangible recognition of their efforts. It not only acknowledges their hard work but also provides an extra boost of motivation to continue performing at a high level.

Externally, gift cards are arguably the easiest incentive to offer and redeem for user research projects, scheduling more demos, lead generation, and beyond. Their versatility and universality shine in these use cases, making them an important part to many account-based marketing, success, and sales projects.\

Offering gift card incentives for completing surveys or demos does boost response rates, but ensure the card you’re offering has a broad appeal instead of something too niche,like a gift card to spend in-person at Meemaw’s Apple Orchard in the middle of nowhere.

3. Build Relationships and Show Clients You Care

Maintaining strong relationships with clients is vital for any business's success. Sending a gift card as a token of appreciation nurtures those relationships, demonstrates your commitment to your clients' satisfaction, and provides instant value.

In other words, you’re willing to put your money where your mouth it and want to go the extra mile to express your gratitude. Gift cards allow clients to choose something they genuinely want or need, ensuring they receive a gift that resonates with their preferences. And while this personal touch can leave a lasting impression and foster long-term loyalty, we do recommend deploying gift cards at the beginning stages of your customer relationships or for the lulls between deal phases.

For bigger milestones, such as signing a deal, celebrating a client anniversary, or something as grandiose, bench gift cards and opt for a highly personalized, tangible gift and gift message. (It’s all about balance when it comes to gifts.)

4. Holiday and Seasonal Gifting

Holidays and special occasions are the perfect time to spread joy and show appreciation to clients, partners, and employees. Gift cards are a go-to option for holiday gifting, as they offer flexibility and cater to individual preferences. Gift cards are also a great option for balancing scale and satisfaction.

For example, if you have an employee roster that’s 1,000 people deep, finding a gift that fits every person’s tastes, styles, or wants is a tall order. If you’re crunched for time and quickly reaching decision fatigue, gifts cards could be your savior.

From Christmas to Thanksgiving, or even birthdays or celebrating the start of summer, a well-chosen gift card can make a positive impact. It allows recipients to enjoy each festive season in their own way, making it a memorable gift that suits their personal tastes without driving you into analysis paralysis.

5. Corporate Events, Conferences, and Field Marketing

When hosting or attending corporate events, conferences, or trade shows, incorporating gift cards into your promotional efforts can be a smart move. They can be used as prizes, giveaways, or even incentives to encourage participation. Post signs around a venue that encourage people to stop by your booth for a $5 Starbucks gift card and you’ll be the most popular station at the event.

If you’re speaking at a show, post a QR code in your end slide that sends attendees directly to a gift card and a thank you note. Or up the interactivity and put out a call to action such as “speak with one of our team members at the conference and get a $25 gift card.” This encourages more direct conversations between prospects and your representatives, and $25 is an extremely low cost if a prospect turns into a committed client.

A mock business card for an event and a QR code to redeem a thank you gift.
An example of gift card distribution on a business card as a way to say thanks!

Gift cards provide instant gratification and can generate excitement among attendees. They also serve as a valuable branding opportunity, allowing recipients to associate your business with a positive experience and lasting value. Digital gift cards are easy to distribute, and when deployed with a platform like Zest, they come coupled with an unforgettable gifting experience.

When Is a Gift Card Not a Great Fit?

Gift cards aren’t always a slice of sunshine and rainbows. There are times when a gift card falls flat, feels too impersonal, or is simply gifted at the wrong time. Gift cards can reap huge benefits when given for the right reason at the right time, but they risk adverse reactions and consequences, especially for moments like these:

  • Major customer milestones
    Even if gift cards played a big role in showing gratitude and staying top of mind while building your customer relationships, there are some bigger milestones that warrant some physical goods. When a huge deal closes, when your new customer completes onboarding, when a client hits a big goal with your product or service—these are all instances where a gift card may feel too small. It’s a gift that doesn’t match the grandeur of the moment, and your recipients will notice.

  • Long-term anniversaries
    A loyal customer is getting harder to find, so if you’re fortunate to celebrate big 5-, 10, and 20-year anniversaries with a client, skip the gift card. You’ve known this recipient long enough to have a healthy backlog of notes about their interests, hobbies, and personality, so leverage that insider info and send a gift that speaks to it. Sending even large sums of money via a gift card at this point could leave the loyalty customer feeling misunderstood or worse, totally unappreciated.

  • Too soon in the sales cycle
    Offering a $5, $10, or $25 gift card to folks who book a demo is an enticing offer that’s sure to catch a few eyes. But giving these cold leads a gift card before even attending the demo is a mistake made too often. Make sure to find a tool that enables you to offer a gift card and gives you control over when it’s actually sent to recipients. This way, you won’t be shelling out cards to no-shows.

Effective gifting is as much an art as it is business. Understanding and leveraging what you send, who you send to, and when takes a bit of time and patience. It won’t take long before you know the best occasions for gift cards versus a handsome succulent or batch of cookies.

Use Zest as Your Next-level Gift Card Platform

One of the biggest hurdles to launching effective and efficient gift card campaigns is the tool you’re using (or lack thereof). Too often, gift card platforms require businesses to purchase a minimum quantity of gift cards per month, don’t quite fit into your tech stack, and carry massive fees to use. Your budget could be drained before you ever even send your first gift card.

Zest doesn’t believe you need to go broke (or go nuts) trying to send delightful gifts for any goal. We’ve built an intuitive, user-friendly tool that makes sending gift cards as delightful as receiving gift cards without charging users a dime in platform fees.

There are not minimum orders, no upfront costs, and no lengthy onboarding periods. (This also means there’s no risk in trying out your first gift card campaign.) It takes just seconds to start sending gift cards for your employee gifting, user research payments, customer success initiatives, or any other goal where gift cards fit the bill—and you’ll only pay for the gifts that are happily accepted by recipients.

Adding logo and brand colors to the gift recipient experience.
Sending a Target e-gift card in Zest.

Weave Gift Cards into Your Next Campaign (and See for Yourself)

When considering a gift card as a corporate gift, it's important to choose reputable retailers or platforms that offer a wide range of options. This ensures recipients have plenty of choices and can find something they genuinely desire. Additionally, a personalized digital experience or accompanying gift notes can add extra touches of thoughtfulness and make the gift card feel more special.

Whether you’ve been a big fan or fierce opponent, it’s undeniable that gift cards are a versatile and impactful choice when it comes to gifting. They can be used to recognize employee achievements, provide incentives, show client appreciation, and create memorable experiences that keep your brand top of mind.

Whether for individual occasions or as part of larger corporate events, a gift card offers flexibility and personalization, making it a reliable and well-received gift option. Consider incorporating these magic li’l cards into your gifting, incentives, or rewards strategy, and watch as they enhance relationships, motivate employees, and leave that hard-to-earn lasting positive impression.

Liz Lorge
Liz Lorge
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