12 Days: Best Buy was behind the now ubiquitous gift card
Dec 03, 2012 (Menafn - Pioneer Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --In 1995, Best Buy tried a little holiday experiment.
Instead of paper gift certificates, the electronics chain wondered if consumers would embrace an encoded piece of plastic, known as a gift card.
"It was a phenomenal success," said Anne Platt, who led Best Buy's gift-card program -- and still does. "Consumers got it right away."
The Richfield-based retailer quickly learned what others later discovered -- that giving a gift card is hugely popular, not only with the giver but the recipient, too.
Every year, the National Retail Federation asks shoppers what holiday gifts they'd like. And again in 2012, it reported: "There's one (item) that stands out more than any other -- gift cards."
Best Buy wasn't the first gift-card issuer, but as a very large and very early adopter, it had an impact. As Platt put it: "This turned the whole brand into a gift."
But it had a broader effect, too. It gave Best Buy's network of Minnesota suppliers and contractors an early head start in a fast-growing market, which contributed to making Minnesota the heart of the gift-card industry. The corporate presence of other powerful retailers like Target and Supervalu helped, too.
Today, Minnesota companies play leading roles across the industry -- from creative firms that design cards, to printers that produce gift cards, to firms that distribute cards.
"There's many aspects of the program that are invisible but do have a positive impact on Minnesota," Platt said.
called Travel Tags manufacturers 500 million gift cards a year at its plant in Inver Grove Heights. In national gift-card circles, that places it "No. 1 or 2, depending on the year," said Martha Weaver, its marketing manager.
Another player, Archway Marketing, distributes more gift cards than any other player in the world -- 700 million this year -- all from a huge warehouse in the Minneapolis suburb of Rogers.
Unlike in 1995, gift cards today come in a dizzying array of styles, occasions,
moods -- even scents. The creative folks have added whimsy to the gift card, so Target shoppers can give a Lego gift card, and Best Buy once offered a gift card that doubled as a working iPod speaker.
"We've really tried to keep the program fresh and do fun things," Platt said.
If you're lucky enough to get this year's most popular gift, chances are good that in some way, it came from Minnesota.
Tom Webb can be reached at 651-228-5428. Follow him at twitter.com/TomWebbMN.
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