gift certificates

Our Newest Project: Selling Local Gift Certificates Online With Gift MDI

We all know ‘buying local’ is a great idea. More money stays in the community. We have access to goods and services we wouldn’t have otherwise. We have vibrant downtown centers. New people relocate because they have options to make money. It is a win-win.

But most of us need a little push to do this, and it often boils down to a matter of modern day convenience. It wouldn’t surprise you to learn that organizations with online donations get more donations or volunteer participation increases with the ability for volunteers to sign up online… so how can we make ‘buying local’ something more people can do online?

Option 1: Build every local business an online shopping cart. Not only is this overkill/expensive but some businesses don’t want to maintain an online cart, which involves shipping orders, making sure the stock is up-to-date, etc. Also this option doesn’t consider service businesses like restaurants or cleaning services.
Option 2: Have a database of information of where you can purchase different kinds of goods/services in a community. I don’t mind paying an extra $20 for a raincoat at a local shop. I do mind spending an hour long lunch break shopping for one only to spend half my time going to stores that don’t carry rain coats. This ‘here’s what you got locally’ information would either be a ridiculous-to-program website or involve some very knowledgeable people being available at regular intervals to take phone calls. In other words, not ideal.
Option 3: Sell local gift certificates/gift cards online for businesses.  



It seemed obvious to me that selling local gift certificates seemed not only the best place to start but also an area where most businesses are missing out on potential revenue. Gift certificates are oftentimes never redeemed or, when they are, the customer spends more than the certificate amount. (Think about it, you get a $50 restaurant gift certificate and you are totally going to order the $8 cake versus leaving $3 unredeemed on the certificate, am I right?) In my own experience, I have given away 5 Anchorspace scholarships as silent auction items in the past two years and ZERO people have come in to redeem them.

We know that:

  • Gift certificates are the most requested item on holiday wish lists, so we know people like to get them.
  • Gift certificates create additional revenue for a business, and since they are never claimed or people purchase above and beyond a majority of the time, they are worth more than face value.
  • Gift certificates are easy to send, meaning shipping costs are non-existent.
  • Paper goods besides gift certificates also work with this model.

So all we had to do was build a super fast, mobile friendly, easy to use website where people could buy local gift certificates online. 

Enter Gift MDI, a website I have been building (with a lot of help from my colleague Dr. Eric York) over the past six months. Eric was the design brain (though I had lots of opinions) and I was the sales/marketing person talking to business owners about this very new idea.

We launched with 14 businesses last Saturday night, and we had our first sale Sunday! If you are a business on MDI and want to be on the site, just contact us.



Our model is simple:

  1. Businesses make more money without more hassle selling gift certificates. If businesses didn’t have gift certificates made, we made them. If people didn’t have an idea of what they could do, we helped them figure it out.
  2. Customers can personalize their experience by sending gift certificates to different people from the same cart and by adding personal messages and greeting cards.
  3. Affiliates can earn money generating sales, decreasing our overall marketing budget and increasing buy in, online and off.
  4. We make our money by taking a percentage of sales, so as not to penalize businesses doing lots of small transactions with a per certificate charge and so as not to penalize businesses with no sales with a monthly charge. You only pay for this marketing when it works.
  5. Once we have our business model down, we take this concept to other communities. This site would be super expensive to replicate, but what is really needed is local community connection and knowledge.



Our goal, besides Gift MDI being our working prototype, is to put $100,000 into the local economy by May 28, 2018 with this website.

I know it’s ambitious but I think we can do it as a community. Sure, it’s a great mix of my customer service, web development, sales, and community development skills but I think it’s something communities need just about everywhere.

If you see this concept as interesting and live locally, please let me know if you’d like to be involved. We’re very open to feedback and participation as this is brand new. I want people to see how vibrant and diverse our local economy is!
If you see this concept as interesting and don’t live locally, please get in touch and we can help get it to yours. 

Thanks to everyone who has supported the effort so far. It is an ambitious project and we are just beginning! Visit GiftMDI.com to buy local and online (yes, you can do both now).



Gift Cards: In Theory, Easy. In Practice…

I have a funny story to tell you.

This May, my brother was having a tough time after his childhood pet passed away. He lives in Boston, and I wanted to send some sort of condolence his way. The new Mad Max had just started

The gift of the ultimate cinematic experience.

The gift of the ultimate cinematic experience.

playing in theaters, so I found a movie theater close to his apartment, and proceeded to order a gift certificate online. Instead of following through with my original plan of buying a card and having it mailed to his apartment, I decided to go paper-less and ordered a digital certificate, which would get sent directly to his email. He could go to the movies that night, and I’d basically be Sister-of-the-Year. Boom.

Unfortunately, there was some room for user error. Long story short, I ignored the multiple warnings to double check the recipient email address, and now some random person with Gmail has a e-gift certificate to an AMC in Boston. You’re welcome. 

Fast forward a few months, and my dad (successfully) used a similar strategy to order my brother’s birthday present (a gift card to a menswear store in Boston). He was looking for a gift of professional clothing, but didn’t want to be responsible for size, color, or even the article of clothing (maybe Stephen needed a tie and not yet another button down shirt), and it made more sense to get a gift card to a store in Boston rather than in Maine.

These anecdotes prove a few different things: a) that I’m an impulsive shopper, b) that my dad is better than me at online ordering, and c) that my brother gets a lot of email gifts. But let’s take a step back. What role to online gift cards play? In a), online gift cards helped fuel my spur-of-the-moment desire to send comfort to a loved one far away. In b), ordering a gift card online allowed dad to purchase something thoughtful that he was able to research, and remove any sort of responsibility in a clothing related decision making process. In c), my brother, who lives slightly more than a stone’s throw away, is able to receive gifts that he can use where he lives, not where we live. Dad and I didn’t physically have to go into a store in Boston, and it was awesome (well, minus the part where I wasn’t visiting Boston).



From a business and marketing perspective, this got me thinking about online gift cards. Why do people buy them? Why do businesses sell them? Here’s what I came up with:

Why give a gift card online?

Location. Maine to Boston doesn’t necessarily cover a lot of ground, but one of the benefits of purchasing a gift card online is location. Giving a friend in Colorado a gift card to their favorite local burrito place when you live in the Catskills is completely possible now. How cool is that??

Convenience. If my whole gift certificate debacle had been successful, my brother could have gone to see Mad Max. He could have also gone to see Pitch Perfect 2. He could have waited until November. He could have brought a friend or gone alone and bought a ton of popcorn and candy. With a gift card option, the user can cash in when it’s convenient for them. It’s different than buying him two tickets to the 9:00 p.m. Mad Max showing. What if he can’t go then? What if he’s sick, but feels the need to drag himself to the movies because of these tickets? Gift cards take off a lot of pressure from both ends.

Low-Pressure. Remember those old “Oh, you shouldn’t have…you really shouldn’t have” commercials? Well, the cool thing about gift cards (besides being “free money”) is that you take the pressure off yourself. Don’t know someone’s shirt size? Can’t remember his favorite color? With a gift card, you’re putting the ball in the other person’s court. The recipient can go out and get exactly what s/he wants, and it’s all thanks to you!



Should you sell gift cards?

Pretty much all the larger corporations sell gift cards on their website (whether through email, physical mail, or both). However, only 3% of small/local businesses sell their gift cards online. What?!? These businesses may offer gift cards, but you have to physically go into the store to purchase them. Honestly, sometimes I am just feeling a bit lazy and would rather order a gift card online than walk down the street, wait in line, purchase one, and walk back.

Another statistic that might appeal to businesses: 72% of customers will spend more than the value of their card (usually around 20% more). Over 50% of gift card recipients will make multiple trips to completely redeem their gift card, and who knows, they might bring a friend or two to shop with. The bottom line: you’re getting more bodies in the door and more money in the bank. 

Amazon offers gift cards to hundreds of business that are deliverable via email, print, or mail. But, what about the people who would rather purchase from a smaller business?

Amazon offers gift cards to hundreds of business that are deliverable via email, print, or mail. But, what about the people who would rather purchase from a smaller business?

If you do…

The good news: it’s really not that difficult to set up. You’ll need a few different things (we outline them in greater detail in this blog post, so I’m just going to gloss over them here).

First, you need a form that accepts payment and a secure certificate. You’ll also need a way to accept that payment, usually via a third party system. We use Stripe, but Paypal is common. Then, it’s a matter of putting the form on a page on your website, making it pretty, and making sure the instructions are clear. Clear enough that people won’t accidentally send a non-refundable gift card to a rando and still be bitter about it…

Alright, to be honest this was 90% user error.

Alright, to be honest this was 90% user error.

For “extra credit,” mobile friendliness is a huge bonus. Millennials are leading the way with online gift card purchases. Personally, I like the convenience of multi-tasking and if I’m in line at the grocery store, I can kill two birds with one stone by ordering a gift card on my phone while waiting. How’s that for multitasking?

Gift card sales online have been on an upward trend for the past few years, especially for small and mid-sized businesses. They’re easy to set up on your website, and are incredibly convenient for the donors and recipients. People love to shop local when given a chance, trust me! If you have any questions about selling gift cards on your website, feel free to email us or leave a comment on this post. Always happy to help!