Book Sense Gift Cards, the 'Coolest Thing in a Long Time'

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January was a very good month for many retailers, according to an Associated Press story in the February 6 edition of the Seattle Times, which reported that last month's robust sales at many retailers around the country were well above expectations and could be an early indicator of a consumer spending recovery. The article noted that analysts point to the redemption of gift cards purchased during the holiday season as one spur to sales in a month many consider to be the least important in the retail sales calendar.

Two samples of
ABA Gift Cards

A number of booksellers have also reported gains in gift card sales -- ranging from good to exceptional.

Dan Chartrand, owner of the Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, New Hampshire, recently remarked about the gift card program, "It's the coolest thing that has come along on the ABA front in a long time."

Chartrand contacted ABA to express his thanks and appreciation for the gift card program, which has been a tremendous success in his store: Gift card sales for January 2004 were up 58 percent over sales of paper gift certificates in January 2003. Total store sales for that period are up in "the single digits," Chartrand said.

He attributes the cards' success to two main factors: the confidence that gift cards inspire and their marketability. "My dealings with customers leads me to believe it is the perception [on the customer's part] that a gift card has more value than paper…. It feels more substantial to the giver," Chartrand explained. "Something about the little card says this is real in a way that a paper certificate doesn't."

Chartrand noted that he has been able to merchandise the cards more effectively than the paper certificates by using spinner racks to display the cards. He noted, "If I lose one, so what -- they aren't activated."

Vickie Brown, owner of The Ole' Book Nook in Urbana, Ohio, concurred with Chartrand's comments. "People enjoy getting the cards more," she explained. "They are more special than the paper certificates. They are easy to use, and it's helpful to find out their remaining balance so quickly."

The store's sales of gift cards have "definitely increased [over those of paper certificates], and we didn't really get on board until November," Brown explained. "We didn't [market] them as much for Christmas as we could have. We are going to include them prominently in our Mother's Day and graduation displays."

So far, Brown and Chartrand have found that the cards are returning to their own stores. But many booksellers have echoed Chartrand's hope that a more extensive network of participating stores will develop. "Just think how potent this would be if we actually put the [Book Sense stores and the gift card] networks together," he concluded. --Nomi Schwartz