In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the mandated closures of non-essential businesses, a dramatic decrease in foot traffic to essential businesses, widespread layoffs, and an overall decline in consumer spending has had a seismic impact on the global economy—and small businesses have been hit the hardest.
Special small business loan and funding programs like federal grants, disaster relief loans, and the Paycheck Protection loan have all been developed to provide small businesses with an immediate infusion of much-needed working capital. But applying for these loan programs takes time, and approval isn’t always a guarantee. So in the meantime, there are ways that small business owners can take matters into their own hands. One of the quickest solutions is selling small business gift cards online.
Customers can redeem their digital gift cards either immediately, if you have an online store, or in person once your brick-and-mortar business is back up and running. But either way, selling gift cards online can help free up some cash flow on your end. Implementing a small business gift card system is simpler than you might think, too. We’ll show you exactly how to do it.
We’ll walk you through three of the simplest ways you can sell digital gift cards. One thing to keep in mind when evaluating gift card platforms: Make sure that your business receives the funds as soon as your customer purchases their gift card, not when they redeem their gift card. You should also review each platform’s fees, if applicable. Choose the platform that puts the most cash into your pocket as quickly as possible.
The simplest way to create an online gift card program that integrates with your POS system is to go straight to the source: your POS system itself.
Most cloud-based POS systems either offer their own gift card functionality, or they’ll integrate with a third-party gift card app. And some POS providers offer gift card functionality with every service plan, while others offer it as an add-on service for an extra fee. Either way, setting up a gift card system directly through your POS allows you to easily create, promote, send, and track gift cards that integrate with your business website and POS system—you just need to determine whether your provider offers this service and what extra cost, if any, it requires.
The following are just a few major POS systems that offer online gift card services. (Note that most of these providers also offer physical gift cards, but we’ll just be focusing on digital gift cards.)
Square’s eGift cards feature is free to set up and offer. Once you opt into this service, you can either create your own gift card design or use one of Square’s ready-made templates. Then you can integrate a gift card link into both your website and your social media pages, where customers can purchase gift cards either for themselves or to email to another recipient.
Gift cards can be redeemed in-store at any point, through a Square online store, or through Square partners (including Magento). Customers can also find your gift cards through their new Give and Get Local directory, which lists all businesses offering Square eGift cards.
With this service, you’ll pay a standard credit card processing rate of 2.9% + $0.30 every time a customer purchases a gift card online.
Toast’s add-on gift card feature allows restaurant owners to sell digital gift cards by adding a button to your business website or your online ordering site. You’ll also be able to track gift card sales through Toast’s reporting and analytics feature. Customers can purchase electronic gift cards, then send them either through email or via text. Note that gift cards can only be redeemed in-store, not online.
Alternatively, you can opt into one of Toast’s several third-party gift card platforms, but you’ll need to check in with these partner platforms to ensure that they offer digital gift cards, and to learn about their rates and fees. Toast’s own gift card service costs an additional $50 per month.
In light of COVID-19, Shopify has made their gift card feature available on all Shopify subscription plans for the foreseeable future. Customers can redeem online gift cards through any Shopify sales channel you use, including your online store, Pinterest, and Facebook Shop and Messenger. (They can also be redeemed in-person at a future date.)
Take a look at Shopify’s gift card manual for a step-by-step guide on how to add this feature to your existing Shopify plan, if you don’t have it set up already.
Other than using your POS system, the fastest way to start offering small business gift cards is to sign up for a gift card app. These apps work as standalone gift card systems that allow you to create, sell, and track online gift cards through a mobile app and dashboard. Many of these apps can also integrate with your business website, POS system, and other software you use to run your business, like your email newsletter service, if you want to streamline all your back-end processes.
Some of the more popular egift card apps for small business owners are GiftFly, Gift Up, Tango Card, Givex, and Yiftee. Keep in mind that most apps will charge either a monthly and/or a percentage-based processing fee for each transaction.
Equally important as finding a gift card program is getting those gift cards into the hands of your customers.
We probably don’t need to expound upon the importance of online marketing to do exactly that, but now is really the time to double down on your efforts. There are lots of subcategories that fall under the “online marketing” umbrella, but for now, social media marketing is an approachable (and crucial) channel to funnel your efforts. In the age of social distancing, social media is where most of your customers are hanging out, even more often than they did before.
In terms of selling gift cards, many digital gift card services, whether directly through your POS system or a third-party app, allow easy integrations or promotional features across social media channels. Still, it’s important to create your own posts and tweets to promote and consistently remind your customers of your gift card system. Not only does this achieve the obvious (namely, marketing your gift cards), but creating bespoke messages is so important for keeping you and your customers connected.
To make it really easy for your customers to purchase gift cards, you can also include a link in your Instagram and Twitter bios. Don’t forget to update your website to reflect your updates, too. For example, you might consider adding a pop-up window or announcement bar promoting your gift cards (including a direct link to your gift card portal, of course).
And if you don’t have one already, now is an ideal time to launch an email newsletter campaign. There are lots of platforms out there that can help you implement a simple email marketing strategy. Start by looking into MailChimp and Constant Contact, which are two of the most popular email marketing services. Keep in mind that some all-in-one POS systems like Shopify and Square, and website hosts like Squarespace and Wix, have their own email campaign tools, too.
We won’t sugarcoat it: This is a strange and scary time for small business owners (and for everyone, everywhere). But when it comes to running your business, we want you to feel empowered by the things you can control. Creating a digital gift card system is one simple step you can take today to recoup some of your cash—and, on a qualitative level, your customers will appreciate the opportunity to support you during these uncertain times.
And at any time, you can head to Fundera’s Small Business Relief Hub for detailed information about emergency funding options, remote management tools, how to support other small businesses, and more resources and articles about maintaining your operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re here to support you.
Sally Lauckner is the editor-in-chief of the Fundera Ledger and the editorial director at Fundera.
Sally has over a decade of experience in print and online journalism. Previously she was the senior editor at SmartAsset—a Y Combinator-backed fintech startup that provides personal finance advice. There she edited articles and data reports on topics including taxes, mortgages, banking, credit cards, investing, insurance, and retirement planning. She has also held various editorial roles at AOL.com, Huffington Post, and Glamour magazine. Her work has also appeared in Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, and Cosmopolitan magazines.