Podcast November 18, 2020

The future of gifting in a digital age

In the payments space, there’s one area that shouldn’t be overlooked:

Digital gifting.

It’s a rapidly growing area of payments. And with that growth comes innovation. 

In this episode, my guests are two of the people driving that innovation: Brett Narlinger, Head of Global Commerce, and Helena Mao, VP of Global Product Strategy, from Blackhawk Network

We discuss:

  • How the gifting world is changing
  • The effect COVID-19 has had on gifting
  • How the demographics for digital gifting have changed

The evolution of digital gifting

As everyone knows, traditionally, gift cards are physical items. 

You buy one at a supermarket, where they are usually at the checkout counter to remind you a birthday is coming up. 

But digital gifting has become ubiquitous. 

And the cards are beginning to blur the lines between the digital and physical world. 

“A gift card is a form factor for payment. And effectively, over the years, it’s bridging the physical and the online space in an unintended way.” — Helena Mao

The innovative aspect of the digital space means that a gift card will no longer just gather dust in a wallet.

Instead, it can be transferred into a digital wallet — much like any other payment option — in something like Apple Wallet. 

What Blackhawk is enabling is the ability to shift these gift cards between wallets. Much like the traditional gift card, only now it can be sent via text message or other digital means. 

And this functionality has exploded in recent months — for, perhaps, one obvious reason.

The pandemic and payments

Much like the rise we’ve seen in things like contactless payments, the pandemic accelerated the move to digital for gifting solutions. 

As Blackhawk was making a name for itself in this new space, suddenly everyone needed digital solutions as soon as possible. 

The company is using that to look forward and see how the rising acceptance of digital will affect its future growth. 

And one huge trend stands out:

Embedded services. 

Blackhawk sees opportunities here.

“I’d much rather lean into the channels and access their loyal customer base than trying to fight them too come into mine.” — Brett Narlinger

And it goes back to the history of how people pay. 

If you look at the most powerful companies, traditional, powering commerce behind the scenes, it’s the big credit card companies — Mastercard, American Express, etc. 

For the longest time, this was the de facto ecosystem of how the trusted brands of finance merged with trusted brands in areas like retail. 

But these days, trusted brands are companies like Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google. 

And embedded finance has changed the paradigm. 

For Blackhawk, this means leaning into working with these brands, offering services that gel with these to tap into their user base and have connectivity with the customer.

A customer, it’s important to note, who is changing every day. 

Demographic shifts

Another area where the pandemic has changed everything is demographics. 

A year ago, Blackhawk could take it for granted that Gen-Z would be onboard with their solution. But it seemed like an uphill battle to recruit other generations. 

“We weren’t worried about the Gen Z population. But we thought it’d take years to get multi-generations to that place. But in six months, we’ve turned multiple generations into Gen Z-ers.” — Brett Narlinger

But now, if you look around, that’s all changed. 

In less than a year, the same impetus driving contactless payments is also changing other behaviors. 

As digital becomes the only way that many interact with the world, suddenly it’s not so weird to find your grandparents using Grubhub for food or sending pictures to digital frames. 

Basically, the pandemic has turned everyone into Gen-Z. 

And that shift is allowing Blackhawk to innovate even faster than their already break-neck pace. 

One area where this is evident is in their customization capabilities. 

Rather than a traditional gift card like you buy at the store, users can start to shift into an equally personalized gift that offers infinitely more freedom. 

Imagine giving a gift card that can be used at all your spouse’s favorite stores. Or one that can travel across borders without any restriction. 

While the company is not quite there yet, they see this as the inevitable future. 

And in light of the current crisis, it’s a future that is much closer than anyone could have imagined.

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Until next time!


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