Most people have a love/hate relationship when it comes to gift cards; they love to get them but hate to give them because they’re often seen as an impersonal gift. I, for one, see them as the perfect solution to the pointless pondering of the “what should I get her?” conundrum. As they say, “If it’s the thought that counts, I’m counting on you to think for yourself.” No guessing, no wondering, we know what we like and do not like. You know this, I know this, but most importantly your customers know this. Gift cards are a basic necessity for brick and mortar stores and, impersonal or not, they are not going anywhere.
The problem, however, comes now that you have a prospering eCommerce store and with it the need to sell gift cards both online and in-store. While a great majority of eCommerce platforms fully support the creation and processing of gift cards, chances are the gift card and loyalty program company you purchase your cards from probably has nothing to do with your eCommerce store. This means customers who purchase a card from your brick and mortar store will not be able to use it in your online store and vice versa.
Unless your eCommerce platform has a direct partnership with your gift card provider, you will not be able to offer customers a seamless purchasing/redeeming experience. In this piece, we will explore the basic steps that must be taken to integrate an in-store gift card system with its online eCommerce counterpart. The process consists of:
- Identifying the basic transaction and situation purchase flow; what exactly does your customer need to be able to do?
- Identifying the limitations and/or deficiencies from both gift card processing services/providers and eCommerce system/platform.
- Planning the right solution.
Integrating your brick and mortar gift cards with your eCommerce store and vise versa.
1. Identify the Basic Transaction and Situational Purchase Flows
The first step is to identify what exactly your customer needs in order to have a seamless gift card experience with your brick and mortar and online store. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Will my customer be able to use the gift card they purchased online at my brick and mortar locations?
- Will my customer be able to choose between a digital gift card and tangible gift card?
- Will my customer have to receive the gift card number automatically, regardless of which option is picked?
- Will my customer have the ability to replenish the gift card through both the website and brick and mortar locations?
- Are there any specific limitations? For example: location or product based limitations?
Once you have identified your customers’ needs, we can identify any potential issues between systems (if you already have a set gift card provider and eCommerce solution), or what details you should be paying attention to when evaluating one or both of these as a solution.
2. Identify the Limitations of the Gift Card Provider & eCommerce Platform
I believe that it is always useful to know what limitations exist before attempting to develop a solution. If you know what your limitations are, you can find more opportunities to make things work, which means a better final solution. This forethought has allowed us to successfully implement a variety of eCommerce solutions. However, every business is different, so is every gift card provider and eCommerce system. As a starting point, you need to ask yourself the questions below.
Let’s start with your gift card provider:
- Does your provider offer digital and physical cards separately?
- If so, is either product more expensive than the other? (Typically plastic will always be more expensive.)
- How many digits does each gift card have? (This is IMPORTANT! Especially if one type of gift card has more digits than the other.)
- Does your provider have an API? This stands for “Application Programming Interface”. Without a proper API, we are out of luck; there is no way to connect with their system. We would either need to find a different provider or find a way around it (The former will most likely be more cost effective.)
- If they do provide API, how extensive and reliable is it? The success of this project will be heavily contingent on this.
Your eCommerce platform:
- Does the platform offer its own proprietary gift card solution?
- How does this solution function? It’s important to understand how the eCommerce platform creates these gift cards and how it handles them in the back-end.
- How many digits does each gift card have? Does it differ from the amount from the number on the plastic gift cards?
- Does your eCommerce solution provide an API?
- If they do provide an API, how extensive and reliable is it?*
* The facility of integration between these two systems relies heavily on the reliability and scalability of the API provided by both the plastic gift card provider and eCommerce platform. Without reliable APIs or access to either database, automated integration between the two will simply not be possible.
3. Planning the Right Solution
It simply means that while dealing with the details matters, it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture. This dual focus can only be achieved through proper planning. Now that we know exactly what this integration needs to accomplish and what our limitations are, we can develop a plan of action, which will consist of testing different methods, stress testing both APIs, and ultimately creating the roadmap for the programming and development of the integration.
Because every solution is different, it is not really possible for me to explain what the plan of action would be in a way that would actually be relevant to you. However, what I can do is describe our process, which includes:
- Gathering and organizing all information we’ll need (This is pretty much everything we’ve already discussed).
- Gaining access to data sources. For this particular solution, it would most probably be your gift card provider and your eCommerce store access.
- Stress testing of both API’s and systems to find any holes in the intelligence as well as an assessment for technological needs. For example, if you use Volusion, we would be limited in terms of how much we can change the code to make the integration work because the core code is completely hidden to Volusion users.
- Testing different versions of the solution on a small scale. This allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of each potential solution we have. It is possible to discover more limitations in this phase, so we’re narrowing down our options and finding the best possible way to integrate your systems.
- Finalizing the plan, discussing it with you and agreeing on an approach. Once we do that, we can set a timeline for the project’s development and final date of completion.
Of course, these five steps actually involve hundreds of smaller, detail-oriented tasks which will depend on your provider and eCommerce platform. Ultimately, however, we’ll be able to determine the most effective and cost-efficient solution possible.
4. Integrating Your Gift Card System with Your eCommerce Store
With a complete and thorough understanding of what your needs are, the limitations of both your gift card provider and eCommerce platform, and a clear view as to what the plan of action needs to be, the next obvious step is the development and execution of the integration. However, it is crucial that the development is done correctly and in a scalable manner. In our experience, there is no such thing as a “simple” custom development project. Not because creating the solution is necessarily a tough task, but because even the simplest of changes may affect your website and, most importantly, the way your handle business.
At Optimum7, we believe in understanding your exact needs from not just a technical point of view, but from a business standpoint as well. With a project of this size, it can be easy for a team to get lost in the details and lose sight of your ultimate goal – doing better business. Optimum7 has the technological expertise required to perform the integration, but we also incorporate our marketing team to make sure its execution won’t have negative repercussions on your business.
If you’re looking to integrate your in-store and online gift cards into one easy-to-use system, contact us today!