Ready to flip the “on” switch for your off season? It’s doable and profitable, thanks to two simple words: gift cards.
In today’s marketplace, gift cards are hot. A recent Cornell University study found that a majority of consumers prefer them to material gifts. And, coupled with the growing trend of “experiential giving,” gift cards for a life experience like zip lining or navigating an aerial adventure course are red hot.
With today’s 24/7 marketing tools via social media and websites, amped up by the experiential giving trend, gift cards could very well be a turbo boost to revenue during times of year when you, until now, least expected much revenue at all.
Of course, it’s not as simple as just announcing you have them available. It takes careful thought behind the scenes to fully capitalize on gift card sales. The overarching focus should be: make it simple, enticing, and exciting. And make sure their value is clear and real. That means you should tailor the details of the card to your type of operation, location, and target audience.
“If you want to improve your bottom line—especially this holiday season—you need to be using gift cards,” says Matthew Newton, director of marketing for tour and activity software provider PeekPRO, whose program helps many parks and destinations with the process. “They are an easy and super successful way to give your sales a boost and showcase your awesome tours to an even wider audience.”
Easy Button It
Make it simple. First things first: discovering and then purchasing gift cards must be simple and seamless for the customer. “Just like with your online bookings, your website is going to be a key player in driving your gift card sales,” Newton says. “So slap that gift card button on your homepage right next to your ‘Book Now’ button.”
Promote gifting. He emphasizes something many operators may miss, too: don’t wait to let your site visitors in on the gift card news. “Make it clear from the get-go that your tour, activity, or rental is giftable,” he advises.
Keep it flexible. Successful parks take it a step further, and present gift card options that are easy for the recipient to use when it suits them. One benefit of a gift card for an aerial adventure activity unlike, for instance, concert tickets, is their date of use is not locked in. So receivers can head out for the experience when it suits their life and schedule.
Offer clear choices. Parks can make it even easier by offering gift cards that clearly outline what the receiver is getting. At Brainerd Zip Line Tours and Kerfoot Canopy Tours in Minnesota, creating packages to choose from, rather than simply selling gift cards for certain dollar amounts, has shown great success.
“We don’t want people to have to think,” says Brian Nicholson of Blend Integrated Marketing, who works with both tours. “We’ve created four or five gift [package]offers rather than amounts for people to choose.”
They’ve made adjustments along the way to sweeten the offer and raise sales. In November and December of 2017, for example, gift cards could only be purchased in multiples of two. A year later, they decided to allow single gift cards to be purchased during the same holiday sale period—and sales more than doubled that of the same period in 2017, to nearly $133,000. Plus, once card recipients arrived on-site to redeem their cards, overall sales increased. “After all,” Nicholson says, “very few people go zip lining alone. So if you give one to someone, they are going to bring someone else along.”
Suzanne Coblentz, head of marketing at Go Ape, agrees that packaging gift cards works well. “People like things to be pre-thought-out for them,” she says. “We try to anticipate what they want. For instance, we have a package that is four zips and lunch. It makes it easy for the user and satisfying for the giver.” She says Go Ape varies its package offerings at different times of the year.
Upsell. Angela Heald, marketing manager of online booking software provider Checkfront, says she always suggests making upselling easy as well. “It’s easy to upsell, since the customers have not spent any money yet,” she says. “We like to find ways to make it easy to upsell things like photos, an extra zip line [ride], whatever you can offer.” She suggests one-click upsell options, both online and in person, when folks arrive at the park.
Have a Holly Jolly Black Friday
Forget the folks who camp out at big box stores to get one of those five flat-screen TVs on sale; the happening place for Black Friday sales—and all gift sales right up until Christmas Day—is online and with gift cards.
Social media marketing. Holiday shopping is a huge bonus, especially for adventure parks located in cooler areas that bring in no revenue in winter. But it’s also a challenge, because outdoor aerial adventure operations aren’t front-of-mind for consumers during the cold of winter. Solution? Smart social media marketing, eye-catching deals, and some clever marketing tools.
“You’ve got to take advantage of the holiday season, particularly if you suffer when it comes to [income]in the winter months,” says Heald. “Gift cards can bring in a lot of income, and Facebook is successful in a big way for this.
“Selling gift certificates to a cold audience is tough. They don’t know who you are, so why would they gift an experience with you to their friends and family?” Heald says. A well-targeted Facebook campaign, she says, is the solution. She warns that the season is highly competitive when it comes to looks on Facebook, but “if you choose your audience wisely and have a killer offer, it can be a beneficial channel.”
Be yourself. Coblentz agrees. “The holiday season gets a little competitive. My advice is this: stay in your wheelhouse. Stay relevant to who you are and what you do in the content of your gift card. And stay contextual in your graphics, too. Be you.”
Being you, but with a deal, can go a long way.
Lee Kerfoot, owner of Brainerd Zip Line Tours and Kerfoot Canopy Tours, is thrilled with the increase in revenue he has seen since implementing holiday gift card deals over the past few years.
Scrapping the requirement that gift cards needed to be purchased in mutliples of two was only a part of the reason sales more than doubled year-over-year, though.
Get creative. “We knew we could not just double our ad spending and expect it to bring in more revenue,” Nicholson says. So they dug in and focused. After three rounds of creative, they came up with the idea of doing a “countdown” along with countdown ads reminding folks they had 10, 4, and then 3, 2, and 1 days left to get in on the gift card deal of 50 percent off, up from 40 percent off the prior year.
They also stretched out the sale over five weeks instead of three, and in retrospect, found that was a smart idea. Seven percent of sales happened Black Friday through Cyber Monday, the dates you’d expect the most. But a whopping 22 percent came in the final two days, which ended Christmas Day. Christmas was also the single biggest day for sales. In other words, the countdown worked.
“People say to us, ‘Why are you even running [the online promotion]on Christmas?’ But you know: people are relaxed and maybe even a little bored at times on that day,” says Nicholson. And since lots of people end up browsing on their mobile devices when they’re bored, “We figured: leave it up. It worked,” he says.
Jeremiah Calvino, also of Blend Integrated Marketing, points out the value those holiday sales brought to the Kerfoot’s parks: “More than 10 percent of our annual revenue for business was booked in a couple of weeks, over the winter, and in Minnesota.” That’s saying something.
Retain Your “True Value”
Discounts can be tricky, though, and should be handled carefully and not just tossed out when a company needs a cash influx, Calvino says. “The fear around discounting is this: how does it impact our brand? We want to be high end, not perceived as a discount brand.”
Limited-time, advance purchases. To do that, says Calvino, parks need to be careful and selective in choosing when, how and why to offer discounts. “It’s like the old Kohl’s joke,” he says. “If you’re not getting 60 percent off, you are getting ripped off. We need to avoid that.”
They avoid that by truly limiting when the deal is offered. “This isn’t something we’re running year round or any time we see a chance to juice the numbers,” he says.
Sell direct. Calvino also stresses that selling the gift card offer direct—rather than through a site like Groupon—is smart. First, he says, it removes the notion that it’s going to be out there forever or coming back very soon, as many seem to feel about Groupon-like sites. Second, he says, your business, not the third-party site, gets the credit and the warm feelings from the consumer who saves.
Nicholson points out that smart ad targeting—along with daily study and follow up (he admits to being upstairs at his relatives on Christmas Eve, studying clicks and adjusting targets)—makes a difference this way, too. Because when you deliver a deal to someone who is aching for it, it hits home in the best way.
“We did a customer survey and asked if you don’t do zip lining, why not? And the overwhelming factor was cost,” he says. “So you have a fan base, but they don’t want to spend full price, that’s discounting for true fans. And it’s smart.”
The Junk Drawer Gift Card
True, a park has already won when someone hits “purchase” on a gift card. After all, as Newton points out, the revenue is already there.
Added spending. But the greatest benefit comes when a gift card is redeemed. That’s because, first, cardholders universally spend more once they arrive, be it on photos, food, souvenirs, or more rides. Why? Put simply, they feel free to spend, since they haven’t spent a dime yet. And, second, they bring along friends and family. And third, many become loyal customers, the gold standard for park success.
One good news/bad news fact: More than a billion dollars worth of gift cards go unused annually, according to a 2015 study by research company CEB (now Gartner). And while that revenue is valuable, it represents a missed opportunity for added spending—and more fans.
Encourage use. Unused gift cards chew at Kerfoot. “Our core brand is to get people outside,” he says. “And so we’re going to do all we can do make that happen [above and beyond revenue boosts]. The fact that 25 percent [of gift cards sold]go unredeemed for us means we have more to do. Our goal is to get people outdoors. We are going to keep working at that.”
What’s a park to do? Laws in each state vary on how long a card is good for. Coblentz advises all parks to know their state laws as they approach the topic. Then, she says, if you have sufficiently robust email lists, you can send out friendly and no-pressure reminders for folks to get out and use them.
But, she says, it’s not worth spending a lot of time on that. “My advice for small businesses is, don’t focus as much on getting them there as you do on those who show up,” Coblentz says.
Data Driven Approach
Kerfoot and his team study every angle of every sale as the year goes by. It’s that information, as well as data such as clicks on ads and times when click traffic peaks, that help them have the confidence to pursue more gift card sales, says Nicholson.
How much more? “We’re going to ramp this up even stronger,” he says. “We have the strong feeling we have not reached the ceiling yet.”
Spend wisely. But they’ll ramp up, he says, in an educated way. “Having measurements in place is critical,” he says. “The reason we were able to spend $9,000 with such confidence [last year]is because we could see and have confidence that it was going to work well.”
For the coming winter, they are studying the possibility of an hour-based countdown sale. “I think we can at least do 50 percent more,” Kerfoot says. “But with a caveat. We want to evaluate the summer as we go along. It’s easy to say we want to sell 50 percent more, but we have to be sure we are executing on that.”
Maintain the guest experience. In other words, make sure you can maintain a high quality experience even with increased visitor numbers. “If we cannot do that,” he says, “we’re not succeeding, no matter what the numbers say.”