Gail Cohen: Making the most of gift cards as an employee reward

Gift cards have become an increasingly integral part of many businesses reward schemes. Indeed, our most recent State of the Nation report revealed that the B2B gift card market has grown by more than 20 per cent year-on-year.

From an employee’s perspective, the personal touch offered by non-cash rewards such as gift cards often work better than an equivalent cash incentive. Not only are cash bonuses subject to tax – whereas gift cards with a value of up to £50 are tax-free – cash incentives are likely to become indistinguishable from the money already in an employee’s bank account once received and may be spent on everyday expenses such as utility bills or rent – hardly an ideal reward for hard-working, dedicated members of staff.

That said, it’s crucial for businesses to consider how they can make best use of gift cards as part of their employee reward programme in order to ensure that they can continue to meet the changing needs and aspirations of an increasingly diverse workforce.

But how to go about this?

Take advantage of gift cards’ versatility

It’s an exciting time in the B2B gift card industry, with more types of gift cards available than ever before – something that businesses should be looking to take full advantage of as a way to offer employees rewards that are truly personalised to their own tastes and interests.

For example, businesses could offer experience-led gift cards (e.g. a meal out at a favourite local restaurant, a night at the theatre or even a trip away), or multi-retailer gift cards (such as those offered by Love2Shop or One4All, which can be redeemed in thousands of outlets across the country).

Digital gifting products (such as gift codes which can be redeemed online) are also proving increasingly popular due to being able to be purchased, delivered and spent almost instantly, offering previously-unparalled levels of convenience. Indeed, our research into the gift card market earlier this year revealed a significant spike in the use of digital gift cards, which saw the highest growth in the second half of 2018 compared with paper and physical cards.

The “instant gratification” factor of digital gift cards also benefits employers, with those that offer digital gift cards more able to reward exceptional behaviours promptly. After all, employees are far more likely to associate a reward with the positive action they took to earn it – and subsequently repeat this behaviour – if the reward is delivered shortly after they initially earned it.

Gift cards strike a fantastic balance between personalisation and utility – offering employees choice about exactly where, when and how they spend their reward, while simultaneously making staff feel like their boss has truly thought about how best to reward them personally for a job well done.

Businesses can take full advantage of the personalisation benefits gift cards offer by taking the time to find out exactly what individual members of staff might most like from their reward ahead of time. For example, a member of staff may be known around the office for their love of musicals, and may appreciate a gift voucher offering them a night out at the theatre.  Alternately an employee may have just moved to the company from another town, and may like a gift card to their favourite department store to make purchases for their new home.

Think beyond the reward itself

To ensure employee and employer both gain the maximum benefit from a gift card scheme, businesses should think about the entire reward journey, looking from the initial gift card delivery, right the way through to the weeks and months after it has been spent.

This post-reward recognition can generate a great deal of goodwill from staff, promote the business externally as an employer of choice and, ultimately, extend the business “value” of gift card schemes far beyond the initial delivery.

Take a consultative approach

A business could offer the most generous gift card scheme in the world but, if the rewards offered are not the right fit for staff, neither employee nor employer are going to see any great benefit. To this end, businesses should consider asking the people being rewarded – in this context their staff – what they actually want.

For example, businesses could create a staff working group to help form the gift card scheme – actually asking employees how they would like the reward scheme to look right from the outset and taking action accordingly.

Overall, gift cards hold tremendous potential to transform businesses’ reward offering, but it’s critically important to ensure that they’re being used in the right way if this potential is to be realised. The B2B gift card market is going from strength to strength and – particularly considering their popularity among the younger workforce – the right gift card offering can play a crucial role in businesses’ reward schemes, in turn taking a huge step towards engaging and retaining top talent in an ever-more competitive marketplace.





Gail Cohen is the director general of the UK Gift Card and Voucher Association (UKGCVA) – a role she has held since 2015.

Gail’s role is to lead the association developing strategy and setting direction with the executive group, ensuring it represents its members and the industry across all key areas including: PR and media to raise the profile and value of the sector with key decision makers, consumers & stakeholders; liaison and advocacy with government, law commission and other key partners; introducing new services to assist members and add value to consumers; providing discussion, debate and networking opportunities, and providing insight, research and up to date information and news. Gail also leads on members events meetings, and the annual UKGCVA conference.