B2B Gift Card Market Study

Incentive Gift Card Council and Incentive Research Foundation

June 2014B2B Gift Card Market Study

Prepared by Aspect Market Intelligence 2


The Incentive Gift Card Council, in partnership with the Incentive Research Foundation and Aspect

Market Intelligence, collected data from a national sample of business executives to understand the

buying dynamics of the B2B gift card marketplace.

Executive Summary

A study of a cross-section of US businesses offers insights into the gift card buying behaviors of incentive program managers. Key findings from the study include:

  • Confirming earlier studies, approximately half of US businesses use gift cards to reward or recognize employees, partners, and customers
  •  The most common application is employee recognition programs, followed by sales and customer recognition programs. Channel partner programs are the least prevalent.
  •  Average gift card award is highest for sales programs (~$150) and lowest for customer programs (~$50)
  • Open loop continue its reign as the most prevalent type of gift card, followed by closed loop. Restricted cards have the lowest incidence, and are more likely to be used by large businesses.
  • For closed loop cards, dining is by far the most popular merchant category, with department stores in second place.
  •  A business might use multiple sources for gift cards. Purchases from a local retailer are the most common across all company sizes. However, large companies are more likely to also purchase from the corporate sales group of a retail brand or from a gift card reseller.
  • Of those ordering online from a retail corporate sales group or a reseller, 86% are highly satisfied with the online ordering experience.


Sample was source from the Research Now B2B panel. A fifteen-minute survey was distributed via email invitation. Data collection took place in April 2014.  A total of 1,123 business people responded to the survey. Of those, 222 are responsible for managing a gift card rewards program and were able to provide detailed information regarding the purchase and application of gift cards in their organization. This sample size provides a 95% confidence level and 6.58% margin of error. This means if the study was replicated, 95 times out of 100 the results would be within 6.58% of the results presented in this paper – a very high degree of reliability.

See the appendix for notes regarding efforts to control estimation error.B2B Gift Card Market Study

Weighted Calculations

Because the study objective is to project findings to the population of U.S. businesses, measures of incidence and market size are statistically weighted to reflect the highly-skewed distribution of firms; for every firm over $1 billion in revenues, there are 472 firms between $1 and $10 million in annual revenues.

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014


Incidence of Gift Cards as a Reward

This study confirms prior studies regarding the incidence of gift card use among US businesses. Within the statistical margin of error, approximately half of US businesses are using gift cards to reward and recognize employees, partners, and customers. Use of gift cards increases in larger companies.

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Type of Program

Respondents were asked whether their firm uses gift cards as rewards or incentives in four categories: Sales, Channel Partner, Employee, and Customer. Use of gift cards for Employee rewards is the most prevalent application.

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Breaking the data down by firm size, we see that the incidence of all types of programs generally increases with firm size.

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

For each type of program, respondents were asked to estimate the average value of a gift card award and the number of gift cards that are awarded annually. The face value of the gift card does not increase with company size.

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

As we might expect, the number of gift cards awarded annually does increase with firm size. This increase is particularly notable for Employee, Channel, and Customer programs.

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Respondents were also asked to estimate the percent of their program budgets that were allocated for various spend categories: Gift Cards, Other Awards, and Program Administration. Interestingly, 25% of respondents indicated these categories were not exhaustive; therefore responses will sum to less than 100%.

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Budget Breakdown by Program Types:

In larger firms, Gift Cards account for a smaller percent of the overall rewards budget across all program types except for Customer Rewards. It’s likely that recognition events and other non-tangible types of awards and activities account for some of the Employee, Sales, and Channel program budgets in these larger companies.

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014
B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014
B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Budgets do not seem to vary by firm size for Customer Rewards programs – the bulk of the spending is split between gift cards and other awards, with only a small portion of the budget going to program administration.

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Gift Cards Used

The type of Gift Card used varies slightly by firm size. Larger firms are more likely to incorporate Closed Loop and Limited-Open cards, while small businesses rely more heavily on Open Loop cards.

Which Types Of Gift Cards Does Your Company Use In Its Programs?
B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

For the Closed-Loop card category, respondents were asked to indicate their relative use of various merchant categories, such as Dining, Retail, Electronics, etc. Dining cards are by far the most prevalent, and Department Stores are the second most-popular category. Moderately-used categories include Music/Movies, Gas, and Electronics. Travel and Accessories/Jewelry are the least-offered categories.

Which Type of Closed-Loop Cards Does Your Company Buy?

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Firms using Closed Loop cards were asked whether participants are offered a choice in the brand of card they receive. Larger firms are much more likely than smaller firms to offer participants this choice. Are Participants Able To Select The Brand Of Card?

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Gift Card Sourcing

For all types of cards (Open, Closed, and Limited), respondents were asked how many times per year they ordered or purchased cards. On average, large firms purchase more frequently than smaller firms.

How Many Times Per Year Do You Purchase/Order Gift Cards?

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Larger firms are more likely than smaller firms to be sourcing their cards directly from the retailer (working with corporate B2B sales) or working with a reseller to procure their gift cards. Smaller firms rely on local retailers for their gift cards, and often leverage gift card kiosks, such as those found at supermarkets and drug stores.

From Which Source Do You Get These Gift Cards?

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Companies relying on resellers and retailer corporate sales were asked the channel used to order gift cards. Smaller companies are much more likely to be using online ordering for their gift cards.

How Do You Get The Gift Cards For Your Program?

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Buyers who order gift cards online were asked to rate their overall experience with online ordering. Responses were overwhelmingly positive, with an 86% top 2 box rating. (Top 2 box is the percent of people who rated their experience either a 6 or a 7 on a scale where “7” is “Excellent.”) Companies relying on resellers and retailer corporate sales were asked to rate the importance of a variety of card-provider characteristics. Ease of ordering is by far the most important characteristic of a card provider, followed by offering online ordering and competitive discounts on cards. Of least importance are allowing for merchant logos and offering consultation around gift card programs and purchasing.

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Respondents were asked whether they use e-gift cards (aka virtual cards) in their programs. While still lagging behind physical gift cards, firms are incorporating e-gift cards into their programs. Most notably, 28% of the largest firms use e-gift cards.

Do You Use E-Gift Cards In Your Programs?

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Gift Cards Budget Changes

Compared to 2013, the majority of businesses report their 2014 budget for gift cards remained the same. However, it is worth noting the 32% of firms with revenues between $10 and $99 million reported their budgets increased by 10% or more.

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Looking forward to 2015, buyers are anticipating an increase in their spending – good news for the industry.

How Will Your Budget Change Next Year?

B2B Gift Market Study June 2014

Respondent Profiles

Respondents were from a wide range of industries, with solid representation from Financial Services and Retail.

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Additionally, a good range of functions were represented, including Sales, HR, Administration, Operations, and Marketing.

B2B Gift Card Market Study June 2014

Efforts to Control Estimation Error

Aside from the issue of sampling, a B2B study such as this will include inherent bias that will affect the accuracy of market projections. This error has been deemed tolerable by the sponsors because any error of projection will likely make the estimates conservative – underestimating the market, not overstating it.

1. False negatives: It is likely that the true incidence of gift card programs is higher in the marketplace than reported here. The likelihood of a respondent being unaware of a program is higher than the likelihood of a respondent believing there is a program where one is not. This is particularly true in larger companies, where a respondent typically will not be aware of the activities of various divisions, subsidiaries, and locations.

  2. Multiple decision-makers: As firm size increases, so too does the number of divisions and locations. The Fortune 500 are complex microcosms unto themselves, with subsidiaries, branches, divisions, operating units, etc. It is unlikely a respondent will have perfect information within a company with revenue above $100 million, and firms over $1 billion are highly complex. Interviewing a stakeholder in marketing, for example, may give some information about the activity of that department, but is unlikely to yield accurate data for sales, HR, operations, and other departments.

3. Discretionary spend: In many large companies, department managers will use some small part of their budget, or perhaps their own money, to buy “thank you gifts” for their teams. The amount a single manager spends may be small, but in a firm with thousands of managers, the impact on the market is worth noting. These funds may not be captured in the “official” program budgets of the firm. All of this to say, the findings of this study are far more likely to understate the size of the B2B gift card market than overstate it.