Gift Card Gift Horse

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The scene under the tree last Christmas was almost depressing. The gift boxes were smaller than usual. What's going on? More jewelry and cuff links, maybe? Yeech! No more neckties or socks, please, unless they are moisture-management motocross socks. I want toys, riding accessories and tools — all big, bulky man-things. Anything I could have possibly wanted could not fit in those little gift boxes laying wrapped in sparkling paper and bright ribbon. It must be a plot designed to foil the fun of a man trying to relive his gift-receiving youth. Damn! At least I didn't have to haul out as much trash.

It all turned out OK, actually. The only hassle is that I have to go redeem the darn gift cards. The responsibility of the gift-giver's ability to read my mind and do all the shopping is gone. Now I, the gift recipient, need to trudge down to the mall, Starbucks, Sears and the motorcycle shop to redeem my generously provided prepaid man-credits. It's good, and it's bad.

It's good because I can pick out the colors and sizes I really want. It's bad because I now have to drive to four or five different places and shop. Oh, the drudgery. But it's good again because it's not my money.

Ode to S&H

The concept of prepaying at retail began with S&H Green Stamps. If you're over 45 you know what I'm talking about; if not, understand they were like gift card credits you earn via frequent buying. Buy a toolbox at Sears and they'd give you a pile of green stamps. Collect enough of the stamps, paste them into an official book, and you could trade them in for free stuff from a catalog. Cool idea, of course, until you realize there is no free lunch.

Airlines picked up on this concept in the '80s with frequent flier miles. They then started co-marketing airline mileage with credit card dollars. I recall buying a new roof on my house with a credit card just so I could earn enough miles on my American Airlines VISA to take the family to Hawaii.

Gift cards aren't all that new of an idea, but they certainly work for the customer, and encourage repeat business for you.

The local frozen yogurt place punches my frequent buyer card 10 times and I get a free quart. My dry cleaner punches a card permanently attached to the bag so I can earn a $20 credit on my 10th load. In my wallet still lurks a Starbucks card which has some unknown dollar amount still credited on it since my birthday. There is also a big bulky restaurant gift certificate in my medicine cabinet because it won't fit in my wallet. Every time I remember to use it, I don't have it. (Maybe there's a lesson here for you retailers.)

Do you offer a gift card? It's easier for a non-rider to spend money in your store without knowing what to buy. The lesson is: Make it easy and they will buy.

Just imagine how much time it saves your staff from interrogating the generous gift buyer about what her friend or relative might want. With a gift card, nobody needs to know. Pay the money, get the card, then leave. It'd be nice to have the card wrapped first, though, so it at least looks like some time went into the purchase.

Now I get it. My wife and daughters get gift cards from me for Victoria's Secret, Hollister and Zappos.com, while I receive cards from Sears, Griot's Garage and Mission Motorsports. Tools and motorcycles are two things I can never get enough of, so it's perfect. My kids would never know I need a wire feed arc welder, and I would never know they need new underwear (they're teenage girls), but with a gift card, the giver only needs the thought that counts and the credit card.

Gift cards make it easy for customers to spend more and for you to sell more. Don't look this horse in the mouth any longer.

Eric Anderson is the self-proclaimed "Big Stinger" of Scorpion Sports. Contact him at eric@scorpionusa.com.