Background to the East Lothian Gift Card
The East Lothian Gift Card launched in November 2018, and can be spent with over 130 independent businesses in the county as part of East Lothian Council’s commitment to support and encourage small businesses. Almost £100,000 has been locked into East Lothian through the purchase of East Lothian Gift Cards since the launch of the programme.
Richard Baty is the Manager of East Lothian Investments (ELI) which leads on the East Lothian Gift Card. ELI is part of East Lothian Council and governed by a board of directors including two East Lothian Councillors and three experienced private sector business people. Richard tells us more about the introduction and development of the East Lothian Gift Card:
What research did you conduct to find a gift card solution and what were the key elements you were looking for?
“Prior to introducing the East Lothian Gift Card, we ran a Christmas Shop Local campaign in the months of November and December. For every £20 spent locally, customers would be entered into a prize draw to win vouchers. It was incredibly popular, we had over 8000 entries in the final year, but as a paper based system it was both expensive to run with the paper and postage costs, and admin heavy.
“What we really wanted was a programme that we could operate all year round, rather than just at Christmas. We came across the Perth Gift Card and approached Miconex to see if the gift card programme used for the city of Perth could work across the whole county of East Lothian. They said it could and that was the start of the East Lothian Gift Card.
“From a council perspective, it was decided that the best way to manage the project was through East Lothian Investments, a not for profit organisation that also arranges interest free loans to businesses in the area and with a strong track record of economic development.”
How was the idea of The East Lothian Gift Card received by merchants? How did you onboard them?
“We already had good links with local independent businesses because of our Christmas Shop Local campaign, from retailers to hospitality. The team went around the independent shops and trade associations in person to tell them about the new East Lothian Gift Card, and we used social media too. We made businesses aware that there was no cost for them to be involved, answered any questions about the system and explained that the scheme would be key to getting people spending locally. The majority were keen to sign up and it was an easy transition.”
Can you please tell us about your launch, marketing and PR activity?
“East Lothian Council really got behind the launch. As a small council, we work closely with other departments, and new projects are well known and supported. Our local paper the East Lothian Courier covered the story, we used social media and we even created an advert for STV. Our focus in the first quarter was for customers to buy the East Lothian Gift Card as a Christmas gift. In the October to December 2018 quarter, we sold 235 gift cards, that increased to 346 in the same quarter 2019 and between October and December 2020 we sold 2300 gift cards.
“East Lothian Council host the STAR awards each year to recognise and celebrate council employee achievements, they were giving out John Lewis vouchers and we flipped this so they were giving out East Lothian Gift Cards instead. We realised that there could be other organisations and companies who might want to support local businesses with their staff incentive and reward programmes.
“After some marketing to local businesses around Christmas 2019, our corporate sales slowly developed. The pandemic had a positive impact in many ways because employers had staff working from home, or were not hosting Christmas parties, and gave staff an East Lothian Gift Card to thank and reward them.
“Additionally, some independent trade associations in East Lothian received a grant through the Scotland Loves Local Fund and were able to use this money to buy East Lothian Gift Cards to give out to their members, who in turn used the gift cards as customer incentives.”
What are your future plans with The East Lothian Gift Card?
“Our focus now is on embedding the East Lothian Gift Card into the community further and getting people to spend the gift cards they have already purchased. Lots of businesses have been very badly affected during the pandemic, such as hospitality, and by getting out and spending their gift cards, people can provide vital support for local businesses.
“Secondly, we are looking at introducing a location for the East Lothian Gift Card to be purchased in person through the Miconex ‘load this card’ platform. At the moment, gift cards are purchased online and sent out by post, but in person sales and the ability to load your own card will improve access to the card.
“We have a small team who are really proactive at developing the gift card. There are always new ways for us to grow the gift card for the benefit of our independent businesses.”
And finally, any advice for other places thinking about launching their own gift card?
“It’s vital to stay in touch with the businesses on your gift card programme. A business owner may be up for joining the scheme, but may not have trained their staff that they can accept the gift card in the same way as a debit card. What you don’t want is for a customer to try and use their gift card and be turned away. Keeping your message out there is vital. We’ve developed our own database and have a small newsletter for businesses, but that contact needs to be ongoing.
“We have a good working relationship with Miconex, which is really important when you’re launching a gift card programme so that you’re able to sort out any niggles or issues quickly. The East Lothian Gift Card has had an extremely positive impact for our county. We’ve been able to lock spend into East Lothian, keeping our high streets vibrant, supporting our independent businesses and building footfall.