Skip to main content

6 Common Mistakes with Gift Card Incentives

As we all are aware, Corporate America is prone to mistakes. In the HR space, frequent advice is given, but HR (along with Accounting and Sales Ops) has its blind spots that waste time, add cost, create internal control risks, and fall short of effectively engaging their very valuable “human resources.”

The Incentive Research Foundation’s (IRF) 2019 Industry Outlook Study on Gift Cards, proves this blind spot claim when it comes to gift card incentives. The IRF presents the facts and stats; my commentary extrapolates the mistakes and risks and costs. Here are six common mistakes made when fulfilling a gift card award for incentive programs:

1. Wasting Time

The #1 shocking fact is 69% of businesses are purchasing gift cards at retail. (Disclosure: to see most of these statistics, click the full study slides. See PPT slide 15 for this stat.) Imagine the value of a manager slipping out of the office to drive to a grocery or drug store to buy a stack of gift cards – and trying to organize all those annoying paper authorization receipts. Oops! The trip to the store turns into “trips” because the first store did not have enough cards.

Sales & Marketing Management magazine reports a whopping 77% of respondents to their gift card study, list their job function as sales, marketing, or executive management. Therefore high dollar managers are wasting their valuable time running out to Target with a grocery list of gift cards! I asked a prospect what I thought was an excellent sales question to uncover pain – “does it get annoying driving to multiple stores?” – “Oh no, it’s fun to go shopping and getting to buy all those cards!”

Image result for long checkout line

Awarding your incentive program winners with gift cards shouldn’t require a trip to the supermarket.

2. Bad Internal Controls

Buying a stack of cards is fraught with internal control risks. We’d like to believe our trusted employees would never go out of their way to steal, but allowing for the temptation to manifest is always wrong. What if the manager slips two $100 cards in their pocket? Or even with the honest folks, imagine the challenges tracking and reporting who gets the cards.

Here’s a true story: a Fortune 500 company in Dallas discovered multiple managers had stashes of duly-authorized cards leftover from marketing promotions. One manager had $8,000 in American Express cards in an unlocked desk drawer!

3. FedEx Costs

More true stories: I’ve met multiple prospects who were shipping those little plastic cards to employee’s homes via FedEx. On the positive, they had excellent tracking, but on the negative, the $15 overnight shipping cost on $25, $50, and $100 cards increased fulfillment costs by 30%.

Image result for stack of fedex envelopes

Your incentive program’s ROI can be crushed by inefficient fulfillment.


A quick word of self-promotion! Brightspot is here to help. IRF reported that 1/3 of reward buyers were unaware that incentive agencies could help with both fulfillment and effective incentive and recognition program design. Brightspot distributes 150 different cards, can assist with any value, has an online catalog where winners can choose their preferred card, and have the digital interfaces to email e-gift cards immediately. Convenience. Selection. Efficiency.

4. Being Cheap

IRF reports the most common gift card incentive award is a $100 card (28% according to slide 14). But, 52% of cards used are $10, $25, or $50. Advice – make sure the award matches the accomplishment. I see more cheapness than extravagance, and that doesn’t leave a meaningful impression on winners or program results.

5.  Using Plastic

Another recent study, the IRF 2019 Trends Study, reports that e-gift cards continue to gain momentum in the market, with over 50% of businesses going digital. Another cool feature of e-gift cards is multiple branding and messaging options to customize the award and promote your brand or internal program.

Brightspot uses the e-gift cards for our internal, monthly recognition awards, and employees love getting the award on the same day with the flexibility to print the card or use their mobile phone.

dont let gift card incentives fall through because the store was out of winner favorites!

Don’t let your day be consumed by hunting down the exact plastic cards you need. Go digital!

6.  Not Saying Thanks

Our mamas taught us to say “please” and “thank you.” The same applies to business! A fascinating IRF “landmark study” on Participant Award Experience Preferences determined that 50% of the gift card incentive award experience is the presentation. Implication: don’t drop the card on their desk. Celebrate their accomplishment! Add a personal note, speak an appreciative word, or include a message on the e-gift.


I’d love to hear your story of a corporate mistake or provide some help with some no-strings-attached advice! If Brightspot can help with a gift card catalog or e-gift fulfillment, drop us a line over on our Get Started page.

Mike May

Author Mike May

President | Author of 12.5 Steps to a Perfect Incentive Program and recognized as one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in the Incentive Industry. Expertise: bucket-list incentive trips, motivational incentive program design, matching event goals with the perfect destination & hotel, cost savings strategies, global channel reward programs, and targeted communications.

More posts by Mike May

Leave a Reply