These stores market and manage their gift cards for year-round sales, and they’ve adapted to COVID-19 in different ways. What’s right for your store now?
As dance retailers slowly try to pick business back up with soft openings around the country, gift cards, always a year-round revenue source, remain part of their retailing strategy. Birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and other milestones have traditionally boosted their sales as a thoughtful way for customers to offer a gift any dancer is sure to like. Now with COVID-19, consumers have also been using gift cards as a way to support their local businesses and offer a treat to friends and family during difficult times. For a dance retailer, digital gift cards have the added value during COVID of keeping customers connected to shopping at your store, helping to move business along, even a little, during this global crisis.
Gift cards are big business in the United States, and in just a few months, as stores closed their doors, sales of them—especially digital ones—saw a healthy uptick. According to NAPCO Research, by mid-March 2020, gift cards sold directly from merchant’s websites were up 92 percent over the previous year. Why miss out on this market opportunity? Here’s a look at how four dance retailers normally use gift cards and how they’ve adapted during COVID-19 closures.
A Marketing Tool
Nathalie & Co. Dancewear | Swimwear | Activewear, Phoenix
Typically, holidays are the biggest season for gift card sales at Nathalie & Co., says owner Nathalie Velasquez; birthdays are a close runner-up. Family and friends who don’t know what to get their dancers can buy electronic and physical gift cards, which the retailer customizes with different designs through its Square POS system. Some are splashed with humorous sayings like: “It was either socks or a gift card,” “You’re difficult to shop for” or “This is a gift.”
The store promotes gift cards year-round via e-mail blasts and social media, with occasional incentives. For instance, on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday weekend, customers get $60 for each $50 gift card purchased. During the holiday season, “lots of grandparents and dance friends purchase a gift card in the shop,” says Velasquez. “It’s common for our gift card sales to be a last-minute gift idea.”
COVID Gift Card Strategy: Since Velasquez shut down her store on March 31, customers have been able to shop via video chat and phone orders, in addition to e-commerce (with free shipping). They can also purchase e-cards in any denomination—for themselves or a friend—on a dedicated section of the store’s website.
Nathalie & Co. is also using gift cards as a marketing tool. It recently promoted a virtual dance competition, Just Dance, with Só Dança, and offered customers a $10 gift card if they listed ‘Nathalie & Co.’ as their local dance retail store when they signed up.
On May 1, the store reopened with limited hours for private fittings, shopping appointments and curbside pickup, before resuming normal business hours on May 16. Gift cards are once again for sale in-store.
Amplifying Brand Awareness
Mary Ann’s Dance and More, Easthampton, MA
Whether electronic or physical cards, personalization is key. Customizing with a store’s logo or name helps build brand awareness as cards make their way to regular customers—and new ones. Every winter holiday season, Mary Ann Hanlon, owner of Mary Ann’s Dance and More, gets gift cards produced with special Christmas and other holiday designs. But her store’s physical and digital gift cards sell year-round. “There’s no particular season for them in our store,” says Hanlon. “It’s the go-to birthday gift.” E-cards are offered on the store’s e-commerce site; the retailer also donates gift cards to events throughout the year to spread the word.
COVID Gift Card Strategy: Hanlon still offers e-cards online, but she’s being cautious about promoting them too heavily, since they represent a financial obligation for retailers. “I am afraid to sell gift cards,” says Hanlon, who is taking this conservative approach because she feels her business has been on “shaky ground” since she did not get the SBA loans she applied for. “If I’m forced to close, I would be responsible for returning all that money.” (All retailers must comply with federal and state consumer protection laws regulating gift cards.)
Instead, Hanlon is focusing on e-commerce, which she established several years ago, offering shipping and curbside pickup. That may soon change. Some Massachusetts “nonessential” businesses reopened May 18; in phase two Mary Ann’s Dance and More reopened on June 9. With a large sales floor, she has plenty of room for socially distanced shopping, she adds.
Gift Cards Don’t Sell Themselves
Jane’s Dance Boutique, Stuart, FL
Jane’s Dance Boutique sells gift cards throughout the year, with recital season a close second to holidays in terms of big sales. The trick to keeping those gift card sales moving: constantly promoting them, says owner Jane Hallick. Marketing for the physical cards happens on social media, the store’s website and at the bottom of e-mail blasts. Each card is customized with the Jane’s Dance Boutique logo and name.
“Girls always need shoes, tights and leotards,” says Hallick, adding that customers have called to order gift cards over the phone and have them shipped directly to dancers. “Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are always looking for something to purchase for their dancer, gymnast or twirler,” she says, noting that most people purchase $50 and $25 cards. “With sizing the way it is, and special dress codes, it’s difficult for people to make purchases without the dancer.”
COVID Gift Card Strategy: Following the store’s closure due to the pandemic, Jane’s Dance Boutique continued to promote its gift cards on Facebook and Instagram, offering a bonus: a $25 card would bump up to $30, for instance, and a $100 gift card would be worth $125. In addition to its online shop, the retailer also offered appointments and curbside pickup during lockdown, before eventually reopening on May 4.
Keeping Tweens Happy
Gabie’s Boutique, Newmarket, ON, Canada
Gabie’s Boutique co-owner and store manager Amy Manning usually displays pink gift cards with the words “Gabie’s Boutique” in script at the store. She has always promoted the store’s physical cards through social media and e-mail year-round, especially near the winter holidays, as an alternative for those “hard-to-buy-for dancers and the teachers who have everything,” she says.
Gift cards are a particularly great option for her many tween customers who are picky about what they wear, says Manning. And they make it easy to contribute to a dancer’s kit. “Parents may ask family members to purchase gift cards for their dancers to help offset the huge expense of outfitting them for competition season,” she says. It’s a good deal for the store, too. Often, customers who purchase gift cards add in a few extra items, giving the store an instant upsell.
COVID Gift Card Strategy: Manning said she’s backed away a little from selling the physical cards. “We’ve been focusing more on interactive and live promotions and events that engage our customers, which has worked really well and moved some product with it,” she says. The store did do a promotion offering virtual gift cards at a discounted rate, and “we will be putting them up on our online store,” says Manning, “in case people want to purchase to support us during this time.”
Tina Benitez-Eves is a New York City–based writer who covers entertainment, business and retail, lifestyle and more for Billboard, American Songwriter, Wine Spectator and other publications.
Last updated May 2020