Johnson's World: Cards for the Holidays

Christmastime is coming. The goose is getting fat. Mr. & Mrs. American Consumer are bustling about on a spending spree that is unequaled any other time of the year. Retailers are cashing in. For those of us who aren’t thrilled by shopping, or who are intimidated buying a gift for those hard-to-please people in our lives, there have always been gift certificates.

Not all that long ago someone came up with the bright idea of gift cards. Unlike the old fashioned paper certificates, gift cards are much easier to use, easier to track remaining balances, and harder to lose.

 

One Word: Plastics!

Surprised that I’m suggesting a plastic card might be superior to a paper product? You shouldn’t be. In Johnson’s World we always chose the best tool for the job. Of course, the best tool is often print.

Gift cards are no exception. Don’t let the plastic fool you. Gift cards are most certainly a printed product. Printing on plastic, both via lithographic and digital processes, has become a highly profitable market niche for those printers who invested the time and money into doing it right.

Plastic cards have become prevalent enough to qualify as a major product market. They are tricky to produce though, so this niche has not become saturated with the overcapacity that plagues so many other segments of the printing business. This means that profitability is much stronger for plastic cards than for general commercial print.

Once plastic caught on as replacements for gift certificates, the race was on for companies to issue these cards. Unlike certificates, which were often printed in specific denominations like currency, gift cards can be preloaded for specific amounts or loaded up at the point of purchase with any dollar amount that the gift giver desires. This increased their popularity even more by taking cards beyond the birthday or holiday arena, since a small amount made a good thank you gift. A blog at www.giftcardgirlfriend.com does nothing but offer tips about new ways and occasions to give gift cards.

 

Spread the Wealth

Since these cards are really nothing more than prepaid charge cards, it was no surprise that the next thing to come along was a generic one-time use debit card. These things carry the concept one step further. While gift cards are only redeemable at the store or website of the issuing merchant, the prepaid debit cards can be used anywhere that accepts credit cards.

Once these cards became generic the really big boys stepped into the ring. The same folks who print traditional credit cards now print debit cards by the millions.

So, is there a place for the smaller guy in such a market? Sure. First of all, for every Amazon or Starbucks that issues cards by the gazillions there is a Joe’s Deli or Smalltown Bookstore that would also like to issue cards, but may only order a few hundred at a time. Someone needs to service small retailers, and it is my observation that the big boys are struggling to do so.

 

Get Personal

Even more intriguing to me is the product sold by the folks behind the Gift Card Girlfriend blog. If you visit www.giftcards.com you can create your own custom Mastercard or Visa gift card with a picture of Fido, Felix, or that adorable grandchild emblazoned on the front. You can order as few as one card.

Yes, it is more complex than running off Christmas letters. No, it is not so hard that you can’t do it if you are willing to make the effort.

Is this really printing? Oh, yes. It uses a combination of traditional and specialized equipment, but really no more specialized than equipment for the direct mail or packaging markets that pundits are constantly touting as the saviors of print.

Print, after all, is really making or marking almost anything that your clients want in a customized manner. For the future, that means we must all think far beyond traditional ink and traditional paper. And the future is now.

 

Steve Johnson is president of Copresco in Carol Stream, IL; a pioneer in digital printing technology and print on demand. Contact him at MyPRINTResource.com/10111496, or send direct feedback about this column via www.copresco.com/forms/contact.htm.

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