Consumer confidence restored in gift card purchases as digital buying takes precedence

Blackhawk Network, the branded payments solutions provider, has released its latest EMEA Consumer Research Report 2021: How a pandemic changed the gift card industry, revealing that confidence is being restored.

The insight from 15,000 consumers across 14 European countries uncovers whether attitudes towards buying gift cards have changed during and post-pandemic. Overall anxiety levels linked to the COVID-19 pandemic dropped significantly in just six months, from 82% to 52%. Meanwhile, only 21% feel anxious about buying a gift card due to the pandemic, down by 10% from January.

Online purchases and digital gift cards drive sales

Last year, digital gift cards offered a convenient solution to gifting during lockdown, as Blackhawk Network found 59% of consumers bought a gift card online. Despite restrictions easing across EMEA and concerns over COVID-19 declining, consumers are still opting for this method. 70% of consumers purchasing a gift card this year did so online and of those, 38% said the reason for this was that they specifically wanted a digital card rather than a physical card. 

67% of consumers expressed that they are interested in instant gifting, enabling them to immediately send a gift card via email or SMS. As well as this, the online world is opening the door to personalisation options that weren’t previously possible when buying in-store, generating further appeal. 79% cite the “ability to personalise my gift” as very important or quite important, the most popular options for personalisation were the ability to add a gift message, add a greetings card and customised imagery. 

Self-use proves popular 

When it comes to buying gift cards as a present, the most popular reasons for purchases this year (January-June) were birthdays (70%), as a thank you (22%) and congratulations (19%). Interestingly, the research uncovers that 27% admitted to purchasing for self-use, with the main reasons cited being online shopping (61%), followed by a treat for myself (49%) and gaming credit (16%).

When looking at gift card purchases, be it buying as a gift or for self-use, 30% admitted to buying a gift card as a last-minute purchase, rather than planned purchase. Specifically, for last-minute purchases bought for self-use, 83% had purchased online, compared to just 31% who had made a purchase in-store.

Bridging the digital and in-store divide ahead of peak season

So what does this mean for retailers? While online purchases take precedence there is a desire from consumers to access digital gift cards in-store and even via mobile. 68% agree that being able to buy a digital gift card in-store would be beneficial, highest among 18-24 year olds. When looking specifically at the segment of consumers who had already said buying a digital version of the card would be beneficial, 85% would be interested in buying a digital card on their phone if the physical card wasn’t available.

Looking ahead and in the run up to the Christmas period, 70% of consumers are likely to buy a gift card and almost two-thirds (59%) plan to purchase online. 

Anna Uprichard, VP, Commerce, EMEA at Blackhawk Network Europe said: “Despite the impact COVID-19 has had on buying habits, it’s brilliant to see confidence is being restored, especially as lockdown restrictions lifted and retailers re-opened. The insight from the report uncovers important behaviour changes during the last nine months, which should impact how retailers are offering gift cards as we continue on a path to normality.

Perhaps the most important take away is the need for an omnichannel approach to gift card offerings. It’s about targeting and reaching the right customer, in the right place, at the right time. Whether it’s online, in-store, digital or physical, whoever they are buying for and how they are doing it, it should be a seamless experience. In the run up to Christmas, a peak time of the year for retailers, gift cards strategies should be high on the priority list.” 

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