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TAGS:   Community, holidays


The most popular gift of the season was probably made in the Twin Cities

Last-minute holiday shoppers won't find "Made in Minnesota" on a gift card they snap up in the next few days, but chances are it was.


The Twin Cities area is home to numerous gift card designers, printers and distributors, including Archway Marketing in Rogers, Diamond Graphics in Ramsey, and CPI Card Group in Roseville. One of the country’s largest gift card manufacturers, Travel Tags in Inver Grove Heights, produced 1 billion gift cards last year, more than 25 percent of the North American market.

They are satiating a shopping habit that’s as ingrained as buying a big TV on Black Friday. “Gift cards have become as universal as greeting cards, with 96 percent of Americans indicating they’ll buy at least one this year,” said Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, Inc.

Travel Tags — owned by Mankato businessman Glen Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune — lists Nordstrom, Macy’s, PF Chang’s, DSW shoes, Bebe and Aeropostale as clients. “We do the production for some of the largest and most powerful brands in the world,” said Tim Lebens, vice president of sales and marketing at Travel Tags.

Besides the Inver Grove Heights facility, the company has smaller operations in Mankato, Oregon, California and Europe.

Although December is a top sales month for gift cards, Lebens said summer is the busiest for production. “We need to produce the cards three to six months ahead to allow time to get them through the merchant distribution network and into the hands of retailers,” he said.

What may seem like a quick and easy production task takes four to six weeks for most orders and eight to 10 weeks for more sophisticated designs. “Gift cards today are like a little Renoir in your hand,” said Al Vrancart, co-founder and industry adviser at International Card Manufacturers Association in New Jersey. Besides the graphic image created by the art department, the manufacturing process often includes foil, a matte or pearl finish, glitter and raised surface texture. Nordstrom has incorporated a hologram on one of its cards while Neiman Marcus’ card has a raised texture that simulates alligator skin.

“It’s a lot more complicated than it looks,” said Ken Dishno, vice president of operations at Travel Tags. If a client known for an iconic shade of red requests a gift card, he said, designers have to use a different shade of red initially because a blue-tinted laminate film that will be overlaid changes it.

Even the standard rectangular shape and PVC plastic material may be changed to suit the client. Whole Foods chose a gingerbread man shape for its holiday cards, which, instead of plastic, are made from stiff paper that’s strong enough to withstand a run through the washing machine. Target selected a holiday card in the shape of a gold metal coin.

“We are offering guests a variety of gift card options and designs this season including peppermint-scented gift cards, greeting cards paired with gift cards and gift cards that double as holiday gift tags to easily string onto presents,” Target spokeswoman Amy Joiner said.

Some of the cards are becoming collectibles. Last year Starbucks’ metal card for $450 with $400 loaded onto each card sold out online. This year it scaled back slightly to a limited edition sterling silver key chain gift card with a dusting of Swarovski crystals. The company had 43,000 made at $200 each with $50 loaded in gift card credit.

Delta Air Lines’ limited edition gift card is made of aluminum from a retired DC-9 that was flown by Allegheny Airlines, then Eastern, and Northwest Airlines before being acquired by Delta. Each of the 2,500 cards costs $250 on eBay and has $50 of value stored on it. As of last week, 123 had been sold.

Best Buy, which started replacing paper certificates with gift cards in the mid-1990s, changes its gift card designs about every two months. New this year for the holidays is the addition of a Geek Squad card. The gift card, which comes in a box with the card and a free USB vehicle charger, can be redeemed for a one-hour home visit for $100 (setup for a computer, tablet, mobile device, Blu-ray player or gaming system) or $150 (setup for TV/video or router/home Wi-Fi network).

The Richfield-based electronics retailer said that the latest technological enhancement, digital gift cards that can be redeemed on a smartphone, make up only 5 percent of its total gift card sales. That’s consistent with national figures, but digital gift card sales are expected to double by 2017, according to global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

Despite the lack of a physical gift to give, Best Buy’s digital cards allow for more personalization, including a written message, photo or video. There’s also an “unwrapping” feature where the gift “unwraps” after being touched or clicked.

Digital gift cards aren’t a big concern for the industry yet, said Travel Tags’ Lebens. “Digital isn’t friction-free,” he said. “In the time it takes someone to bring up an app and type in their password, I’ve already paid for my purchase with a physical card.”

Overall, gift card sales are expected to decline 3.4 percent in North America to about $26 billion this year, said Vrancart. As retailers start holiday sales earlier, last-minute gift card sales are being squeezed.

“Retailers’ early promotions and exclusive offerings have made it easier for consumers to find everything they need without having to consider raiding the gift card rack,” said Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation.

But don’t expect gift cards to lose their appeal for retailers. More than $750 million in gift cards went unredeemed last year, although that number is far less since 2009 when the Credit Card Act got rid of most junk fees and expiration dates. And cards provide another lift for retailers because consumers typically spend 20 percent more than the amount on the gift card.

One advantage of paying with a gift card is speed. Gift cards will not be getting the digital chip that credit cards are because it’s not a cost-effective addition. A gift card with a magnetic stripe can cost up to 50 cents to make, depending on its design, but embedding a chip adds another $2.20 to $3.50.

“There’s no need to add the chip in a gift card,” Vrancart said. “It’s a simple transaction. You use it a few times and discard it. Too much technology is overkill.”

Read entire article at Star Tribune
Source: - December 13, 2015
Written by John Ewoldt, Star Tribune


651 554 8533

TAGS:   card manufacturing, Community, holidays, Star Tribune, trends


Retailers give shoppers new reasons to use mobile phones in stores


At some Macy's outlets this holiday season, shoppers who download the retailer’s app will be able to use their smart phones to guide them through the store to products they’re seeking.

At JCPenney, customers will be able to take a snapshot of, for example, boots worn by a person passing by and quickly find out if the store has similar ones in stock. And Staples is testing an app that will allow sales clerks to let customers know how the store’s prices match up against Amazon and other rivals.

Hoping to claw back market share from online rivals - and tired of watching customers use their phones to find better deals than those offered in stores - brick and mortar retailers are trying to give shoppers different reasons to use their phones while doing holiday shopping.

The new apps will allow customers to easily order out-of-stock items for home delivery, to check store prices and even to summon a clerk.

But the retailers’ efforts will face two significant challenges in the looming holiday season: getting customers to embrace the new technology, which is still sometimes glitchy and dependent on in-store systems, and getting them to trust that stores can match the Web’s prices and convenience.

Retail purchases by mobile phone have increased by 34 percent in the last year, according to IBM, which estimates that more than 40 percent of the online traffic and about 20 percent of sales this Thanksgiving weekend will come from smart phones.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll of more than 3,000 respondents this month found that about half of those surveyed said they would use their mobile phones while shopping in stores this holiday season, for such things as making price comparisons, taking photos or researching products. Last year, only about 42% of respondents said they would use their phones while shopping.

Companies that don’t make mobile work are playing a "very dangerous" game, said Jay Henderson, head of IBM’s cloud-based marketing platform. "Retailers that can’t deliver a more personalized experience on mobile devices will start losing customers to businesses that can," he said.

In addition to its pilot program guiding customers to products within stores, and a photo program similar to JCPenney's, Macy's has taken inspiration from dating app Tinder, recommending products to customers online who swipe one way to like an item and the other to reject it.

JCPenney's app can be used to scan barcodes to pull up product information or order out of stock items, and it saves digital coupons - two increasingly common offerings in retailer apps.

“We look at using phones in stores as an enhancement to shopping,” said Kate Coultas, a representative with JCPenney which is heavily focused on mobile this year.



Stores are trying to make customer service easier, too. 

Best Buy's app now lets shoppers call, text or email a representative while in stores.

Target Corp is testing an in-store "digital service ambassador" in 25 Los Angeles stores to help customers use Target apps.

Ulta Beauty is testing an app that will allow clerks to access customer information and point them to products they might like.

Faisal Masud, executive vice president of global e-commerce at Staples, said his company knows that it must satisfy the desires of its customers to find low prices. The company, like many others, will match online and in-store prices of competitors, including Amazon, Best Buy and Office Depot.

Customers “have a phone that is basically a super computer, and they will find it somewhere else” for less if they can, he said.

Companies offering web apps and in-store technologies will also have to grapple with keeping the new apps and systems working and up to date. That means ensuring that WiFi in stores works, and that terminals function.

Recent visits to a Staples store in New York City found that a kiosk set up to allow people to order online wasn’t functioning, and at a JCPenney store in the city, the Wifi didn’t work. Both companies said the problems encountered were unusual and that they have backup systems in place.

"Poorly executed plans can be worse than no mobile strategy at all," said Perry Kramer, vice president at Boston Retail Partners. "The dangers are losing those customers for the rest of the year or for a long time."

Read entire article at
Source: Reuters - Technology
Article by Kylie Gumpert


651 554 8533

TAGS:   holidays, trends