The hypocrite certificate


James Deakin

A friendly reminder to the establishments out there that offer gift certificates (GCs). Please, please, please don’t give “the look” when someone uses it to pay. You know the one. The “ay-GC-pala” look that makes them feel like second class customers. Happened to me again last week. I won’t mention the store anymore but the whole process was so degrading — including asking me where I got them or who gave them to me, then a lengthy call to a supervisor, plus a 30-minute process at the cashier of manually encoding each card, topped off with asking me to fill up my personal data as well, and then the constant reminder that it can only be used for full price items and no sales. Not cool. Not cool at all.

Now when I posted this experience on my Facebook page last week, many people in the comments section said I should reveal the store so they know who to avoid. This included Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, who authored the gift check act that eventually became a law. He reminded me that this is something that is not only frowned upon, but prohibited under law. But as tempting as it was to reveal the store and put them in their place (and yes they probably do deserve it) I chose not to precisely because this is not an isolated experience and I did not want the focus to go on one brand and/or my personal experience.

I wanted this to be a wake up call for all the establishments that do it and give them an opportunity to see first hand how their customers feel about this so they can do better. Because many of these places still need to do better. And here’s your chance. Don’t wait till you are called out by name. Because it will cost you a lot more than the face value of those GCs.

Again, just so it is clear. The main purpose of a gift, from a gift giver’s standpoint at least, is to make the recipient feel special. And this type of treatment is the complete opposite of that. Remember, you’re only as strong as your weakest link, and no matter how good your products or services are, if the key takeaway from the transaction is the awkwardness at the cashier, it creates an emotional memory around your brand that is almost impossible to reverse. So ask yourself what it is you are actually trying to achieve by offering a GC program and then stick to it.

For your customers, I can already tell you that it’s this simple for us: By purchasing your GCs and giving it to others, we have entrusted the whole experience and special feeling we wanted to convey to a loved one through you. We are so confident in your brand promise that we are willing to pay upfront for your products or services – not knowing when this will be redeemed – because we have faith in you.

Choosing you as the medium for this gesture and locking ourselves into that arrangement with you tells you everything you need to know about your brand perception and equity. It shows we trust you.

Treasure that. Because brands spend a massive part of their budgets trying to get and maintain that and don’t always succeed. So if someone has chosen to give your GC as a gift, or even as payment to someone, honor it by treating them (and the people using them) as using something even better than cash, precisely because you had our money up front and it can’t be spent anywhere else. That’s a killer advantage in business. Don’t blow it with a judgmental look or comment. Or worse, by putting your customers and staff through a complicated redeeming process that requires the cashier to manually encode everything like they are processing welfare checks.

Remember we all buy on emotion. So please stop treating people who use your GCs like cheapskates that are trying to drive you out of business, and instead, start looking at them as early investors helping you build your business. Because they are. So make them feel that. Then you’ll see the difference between building loyalty instead of trying to buy it.