Gift Cards: How the keep on giving to your store.

Each year teen girls spend more than 60-billion dollars on consumer goods and services, but getting them to open their pocketbooks at your store is trickier than it seems. After all, surf shops haven’t traditionally done much to entice women shoppers. But with the advent of gift cards, you now have an easy gift-buying option for wives, girlfriends, and daughters — an option that will ultimately beef up your bottom line.

Last year gift cards — those branded pieces of plastic with a magnetic stripe that stores information and are swiped like credit cards — skyrocketed in popularity. In 2002, consumers spent more than 36-billion dollars on gift cards, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. (Other sources estimate the amount neared 50-billion) That’s up from 30-billion the year before and the estimated ten-billion shoppers spent on prepaid gift cards in 2000.

“Everybody wants to buy a gift card instead of taking the time to find something, says Izabela Webber, relationship manager at Heartland Payment Systems.

While gift cards simplify the gift-buying process, they’re also a big contributor to shops’ bottom lines. Retailers spend anywhere from 5 cents to 50 cents per card to have gift cards produced for their stores, but most gift-card recipients spend more than the value of the card when they redeem them. Moreover, an estimated ten percent of gift cards are never redeemed, which is like extra money in retailers’ pockets. (Plus, when the cards are redeemed, the balance remains on the card — and the money stays in the store.)

More than just a revenue generator, prepaid gift cards are also like branded billboards consumers keep in their a wallets. “A reusable gift card can be a constant reminder of a store and its brands, Joe Enos of Old Navy told the Los Angeles Times.

Surf City’s Roy Turner thinks the potential for gift cards and similar loyalty-card programs is enormous: “The opportunities are incredible.

Turner’s been using his VIP Customer Card for the past eight years and says it’s been an invaluable asset. Through use of the card, Surf City can track the products and brands a particular customer buys. The program has been so successful that Turner is now expanding it to shore up his wax sales with prepaid wax cards (à  la gas cards), among other categories.

Turner encourages all retailers to embrace the potential of the plastic cards. He says they work well in single-shop operations and fantastic in multistore chains (they can even be set up to work online). Payment-systems-company Heartland — which has worked with Billabong, Jack’s Surfboards, and other surf businesses — is developing member benefits with the Board Retailers Association and SIMA.

BRA will have a gift-card program in place for members by September, Turner says. That should give retailers — and consumers — enough time to make the holidays as stress-free as possible. — John Maynard