By Terry Mathews, Principal at MathewsConsulting, Canada
In 2002 when working at PC Financial, the retail financial services division of Canada’s largest grocer Loblaw I met with a representative from Blackhawk Network where I was first introduced to the world of open and closed looped Gift Cards. I walked away from that meeting thinking this was a great way to increase customer visits to our stores and gain a percentage of non-competitors’ sales, all without the cost of inventory, fixtures or shrink! Little did I know that was to be the start of a twenty-year journey through the ever changing and dynamic world of Gift Cards.
Fast forward to 2009 and my brief stop at Canada’s second largest grocer Sobeys where I had the opportunity to travel to Pleasanton California the home of Blackhawk Network accompanied by one of their VP’s, Tristan Roffey – who I have maintained a friendship with to this day. Tristan and I shared the belief that Gift Cards at Sobeys was an underdeveloped category that could provide many benefits to the retailer – who doesn’t want more and more frequent customer visits along with all the other many benefits that a mature Gift Card business would provide for Sobeys? While in Pleasanton I had the privilege of spending a few hours visiting Safeway stores in San Francisco with Don Kingsborough the founder of Blackhawk. A more knowledgeable, kind and sharing person would be hard to find – he is one of those great people who leave a lasting impression. The insight I gained during that visit would fuel my passion for gift cards and payment types of every kind from that point forward.
My next stop was seven years at Hudson’s Bay Company, Canada’s 300 plus year old Department Store, a company whose proud heritage was reflected by their industry leading B2B Gift Card program. I had various roles in Financial Services at HBC, with the Gift Card portfolio being one of the main ones. My time at HBC provided the opportunity to utilize Gift Cards as a strategic tool, leveraging an iconic brand (The Hudson’s Bay Stripes) which opened up endless marketing opportunities. One of the first things we did was to ensure that only the Hudson’s Bay stripes would appear on a Gift Card outside a Hudson’s Bay Store or website. Those iconic stripes quickly cut through the clutter of brands that is associated with a Gift Card Mall – remember my time with Don Kingsborough in Pleasanton? He commented during our store visits, from 100 feet away, how Home Depot’s Gift Card visually jumped off the rack and that drove sales – I try to listen to smart people, it definitely worked at Hudson’s Bay!
Another element that we dug deep into was analytics, who bought our cards? How fast were they redeemed? How big was the basket? What was the margin in that basket? What was our breakage? Were there any differences by denomination and on and on. We also looked at what channel the cards were purchased and if any of those variables presented an opportunity? Were the economics different, did it make sense to provide a more complex view of Gift Card performance and more actively manage the portfolio? Were we attracting new customers with some of these promotions? The answers to all these questions were yes, the data gave us that insight, enough that, as one example, we were comfortable awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in Hudson’s Bay Gift Card prizes through promotions like McDonald’s Monopoly.
I’ve just recently left Walmart Canada after 4 very successful years where I was fortunate to put together and lead an amazing Team of Financial Services Professionals. One of the products I was responsible for was the Walmart Gift Card program. We applied many of my earlier learnings including growth through distribution expansion while leveraging the iconic Walmart brand in our card creative. The image we developed visually jumps off the 3rd party display at you, I think Don would approve. We launched a digital Gift Card to great success and focused on other ways to get more cards in customers hands which included distribution of physical cards outside of Walmart stores, the Team was able to increase placements exponentially, that’s how to leverage a powerful brand!
From my start in Store Operations, then on to Marketing and many roles in Financial Services, Gift Cards, Customer Loyalty, Credit Cards and Data I’ve had a great journey and learned a few things along the way. I’m looking forward to bringing that experience to other businesses to help them grow too.