Gift Cards That Cause Unhappy Customers

Written by  November 21, 2007

ecommerce gift cardsI was shopping on the Internet recently at a major online retailer and was dumbfounded to find the assumptions they were making on behalf of their customers.

I had no problems finding the items I needed. I also had no problems adding them to my cart or for that matter. In fact, I liked the way the site was working up to the point of the checkout process.

However, it was there (one of the most critical elements of the purchase process) that I ran into problems.

Problems that should not exist in any e-commerce website. Problems that were present because the company was thinking from the seller’s perspective when it should be thinking from the buyers perspective.

It can be wrapped up into something called the customer experience and their approach was no doubt causing some unhappy and confused customers — myself included.

Say Goodbye to Experience

I have been working on the Internet for over 12 years now and currently spend most of my waking time doing so. I analyze and work with e-commerce sites daily to help them cultivate ways to increase conversion. I’ve built numerous shopping carts, personally written thousands of programs, and worked with many others. Moving through sites has become second nature.

Yet, even with that experience, I found myself completely frustrated and lost during their checkout — specifically with regard to how they handle gift cards.

In fact, I actually called a support number (one more reason why I say you should always include a very visible customer service number on your website) to find out how to complete the checkout!

Now, I am probably one of the few that actually does this (calls customer service when I could simply leave the site and go to my local brick and mortar store). I only did it because I just had to find out why they were doing what they were doing, and clear myself of the thought that I suddenly “forgot” how to shop on the internet.

The Mysterious Gift Card

The sticking point during checkout was a gift card that was purchased at one of the brick and mortar stores for the chain. It could be used online or on the Internet.

Upon reaching the section of the checkout that allowed you to enter any gift cards to apply to your order, I found that it had form fields for me to enter both a gift card number and a pin number. It said nothing else, it showed nothing else, it gave no other instructions.

I look at the front of the card for a number and saw nothing that would help. I turned it over, look at the back, and find one number listed. It did not say what that number was but I take a guess that it must be the gift card number.

Problem, I see no PIN number anywhere on the card. Furthermore, I see no indication that the card actually includes a location for a PIN number. I’m stumped.

After many unsuccessful attempts at entering numbers and combinations thereof in the hopes of discovering the PIN number from the mess presented on the back of the card, and searching their site for a section that tells you how to use gift cards, I give up and decide to call customer service. I look at the gift card for a number to call, and surprise surprise, there is no service number listed to call for help.

So I go to their website and dig to find a number to call. After a minute or so I find one. I think to myself, this is insane. What madness just to checkout. But I’m determined to prove to myself that I am not overlooking something that is right in front of me. So I call.

Customer Service That Both Helps and Makes it Worse at the Same Time

Upon reaching a customer service representative, I explain the problem. He says in a “matter of fact” tone “Oh, I can help you with that. Simply turn the card over and look near the bottom right corner. Do you see that small gray area (about the size of an ant)? Just take something sharp and scratch it off! The PIN number is right there behind it (as if I should have already known that.) Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

Scratch it off? What! That is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.

Now, I’m sure there is a reason for this madness (not sure what that reason is), however, if they are going to allow gift cards such as this to be used online, they should clarify how to use them. It would surely help the customer experience.

In this case, showing an image of the back of a sample gift card with the area where the pin number is hidden highlighted, along with some brief instructions like “scratch here to reveal pin number” would be ideal. It should work similar to the many CVV pop ups you find on sites that briefly explain what a CVV number is, and where to find it on a credit card.

What Can We Learn From This?

If you are going to offer gift cards like this, here are a few things you can do to help prevent a frustrated customer.

  1. Include a customer service number somewhere on the gift card itself in case the customer has questions or needs help.
  2. Include clear instructions at the point where gift card redemption is made that specify where to find the numbers needed, and how to use it
  3. Show an image of the back of the card with the areas of concern highlighted (sites already do this to show where to find the CVV number on a credit card, why not do it for gift cards of similar nature? It only makes sense.)
  4. Teach your customer service reps to not speak down to those that call for help. It defeats the purpose of having them there in the first place.

As for this retailer, I think they need a good education in customer experience.

I wonder how many other shoppers are having the same problem?

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