Improve the Experience for Gift Card Recipients

In a recent research report we used Temkin Group’s SLICE-B experience review methodology to evaluate the experience of buying a gift card online from, Barnes & Noble, CVS, Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart. But those journeys don’t end when the gift card is sent; there’s an important person on the other side of those gifts—the recipient. So, to analyze the entire end-to-end gift-card experience provided by each retailer, we took a look at the experience from the viewpoint of the person who received the gift cards.

You can download a free copy of our Insight Snapshot: Gift Card Receiving Experience (.pdf) that includes screen shots of the best practices.


Here are some of the best practices that we found:

  • Format email like a website’s home page. Starbucks, CVS, and Target all turn the recipient’s email into a central hub through which the recipient can access subsections of the company’s website without having to go through a home page. Providing tabs at the top and bottom of the email enables recipients to reach their destination—whether it be shopping, customer service help, or locating a store—more quickly and efficiently by minimizing the steps it takes to get there.
  • Use a fun, friendly tone to capture recipient’s excitement. While most companies use a bland, formal tone in their email to the recipient, Starbucks writes in a lively, informal manner that perfectly matches the joy people feel upon receiving a gift. For example, Starbucks told recipients that the sender, “wanted to make your day, so they’ve sent you a $25 Starbuck eGift to spend on your favorite beverage.” Additionally, the company signs off with a, “see you soon,” and encourages the recipient to make someone else’s day by sending them a gift card as well. This fun tone not only captures the positive feelings associated with receiving a gift, but it also upholds the company’s mission statement to “uplift the lives” of their customers.
  • Encourage the recipient to send a gift card of their own. Both Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts encourage recipients to pass on the delight they felt upon receiving a gift by sending a gift of their own. According to psychological studies, giving gifts makes people even happier than receiving gifts, so by encouraging recipients to pay the delight forward, Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts are increasing the positive feelings associated with their company.
  • Encourage the recipient to send a thank-you note to the sender. Dunkin’ Donuts and CVS encourage the recipient to thank the sender. In both cases the company facilitates a thank-you note by providing a link that sends an email directly from the recipient to the sender without going through the company. By promoting this polite gesture, Dunkin’ Donuts and CVS help to personalize what could be an impersonal electronic transaction.
  • Animate the gift card. Remember the excitement you felt opening up a birthday or holiday card? CVS manages to capture some of that anticipation in its electronic gift card using animation. When the recipient opens the gift card an envelope appears with the names of the recipient and sender. The envelope turns and opens, and a message informing the recipient that they have received a gift card emerges with great pomp and ceremony. Although the end result is similar to the gift card found in the body of emails from other companies, CVS makes the receiving experience more exciting by animating the gift card to resemble opening a letter.
  • Provide a store locator. Because there are no shipping fees, buying products from brick-and-mortar stores is cheaper than buying products online. Barnes & Noble, Target, CVS, and Starbucks all provide a store locator in the recipient’s email, which makes it easier for them to redeem their gift card.
  • Open the gift card in a separate window. Most companies show the gift card within the body of the recipient’s email, but Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and CVS all have their gift cards open on a separate page devoted entirely to the gift card. This new window offers a few benefits to the recipient. First of all, it makes it easier to print out the gift card for use in stores. It also allows companies to ensure that the proper person received the gift card, as recipients must enter their email address in the new window before viewing their gift. Additionally, when opened on a smart phone, this window can be downloaded to the home screen, making the gift card easier to find and use than if it was on a piece of paper.
  • Offer comprehensive instructions for redeeming the gift card. Although all companies explain how the redeem the electronic gift card in one location, Barnes & Noble provides explicit instructions on how to use the gift card online, at stores, and on a Nook. In addition to making it easier for the recipient to use their gift card in all these locations, it also immediately lets them know that their gift card is valid for all Barnes & Noble products—which isn’t true for the gift cards from some other companies.

The bottom line: Make sure to examine the entire experience, end-to-end.

Written by 

I am an experience management transformist, helping organizations improve business results by engaging the hearts and minds of their customers, employees, and partners. My "job" is Head of the Qualtrics XM Institute. The Institute is still being established, but our goal is to help organizations around the world thrive by mastering Experience Management (XM). As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. Prior to joining Qualtrics, I was managing partner of Temkin Group (leading CX research, advisory, and training firm), co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, and a VP at Forrester Research. I'm a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Check out my LinkedIn profile:

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