In January 2022, a Financial Times report credited East Lothian, home of the East Lothian Gift Card, with a 12% rise in in-person spending since the pandemic- the highest across the whole of the UK. Gemma Slight works in business development at East Lothian Investments (ELI), an arm’s length company of East Lothian Council which leads on the East Lothian Gift Card and had this advice on developing your Scotland Loves Local Gift Card:
“It was great to read the Financial Times article about the rise in in-person spending in East Lothian, and it mimics what we’re hearing from our businesses. We actively encourage our businesses to collaborate and the East Lothian Gift Card is a prime example of how our businesses are willing to join together behind a powerful shop local message for our region. It is also testament to how resilient our businesses have been during the pandemic, how they have pivoted their operations, and collaborated on everything from gift boxes to sharing deliveries.
“We’ve been working on the shop local agenda in East Lothian for a number of years. East Lothian Council ran a Christmas shop local campaign in the region for 10 years, giving customers vouchers to spend in local retailers as a reward for shopping locally. Customers and businesses liked the scheme and it was popular but it was very resource heavy. We looked at options to support local independent businesses, year round, that offered a more streamlined system, came across the Perth Gift Card and set up our East Lothian Gift Card in November 2018.
“The team at East Lothian Investments (ELI) consists of myself, Richard Baty and Irene Ramsay, and we operate and manage the gift card programme as part of our existing roles. ELI works on a range of economic development projects, including the gift card. As we had existing relationships with businesses, we were able to use these links to sign up businesses to the East Lothian Gift Card.
“It is vital to keep the gift card brand active all through the year, with both customers and businesses. Our businesses are well invested in the gift card, they display our marketing materials giving customers that reminder to spend. In January 2022, our focus has been on redemption, and encouraging people to get out and spend their gift cards. Our remit is to support our local businesses, so it’s vital that cards are not only purchased but spent by the recipient too. Any issues with the acceptance of the gift card is usually down to staff changes. Keeping in contact with your businesses minimises this.
“Think wide when on-boarding your businesses. Some of our most popular businesses for redemption are our garden centres, but a wide variety of businesses benefit, including gift shops, restaurants, food and drink sellers such as butchers, and health and beauty merchants. It is particularly heartening to see those businesses that have really struggled during the pandemic do well.
“Initially, we used our existing Biz East Lothian social channels to launch and promote the gift card, as these channels already had followers and interaction. In 2020, we felt the East Lothian Gift Card brand had enough recognition in its own right, and set up new social channels on Facebook and Instagram purely for the gift card. We created a video using a local start up firm recently; video content works really well, as do competitions.
“A new initiative for the East Lothian Gift Card introduced at Christmas 2021 is Load This Card, meaning customers can pick up an East Lothian Gift Card whilst doing their shopping, and use the Load This Card service to add a balance. This gives customers who are looking for an instant gift, and don’t have time to wait to buy the card online and wait for delivery, to get access to the East Lothian Gift Card straight away. It also gives our gift card a visible presence in our local retailers.
“As our high streets re-opened in 2021 and through 2022, a number of East Lothian towns are running their own promotions, supported by East Lothian Council, to drive footfall, using the East Lothian Gift Card. In Musselburgh for example, Musselburgh Business Partnership is offering a £5 East Lothian Gift Card to spend in February or March in any of the registered Musselburgh businesses, as a reward for spending £20 in the town. Activities like this contribute to the sense of community engagement with the gift card, and the shop local message.
“Corporate sales for the East Lothian Gift Card have grown, we have some employers that order every year. East Lothian Council swapped John Lewis vouchers for East Lothian Gift Cards for their annual STAR Awards to recognise and celebrate employee achievements, and for their long service awards.
“To attract corporate sales, talk to your local employers. Ask the question of whether they offer employee rewards, and what time of year. Build the relationship through the year, and see if there is an additional incentive you can offer.
“When launching your own Scotland Loves Local Gift Card, get buy in from your businesses from the outset. The gift card is an initiative for them, and will directly drive footfall and sales. If your businesses are behind the scheme and understand its benefits for them, and for the area as a whole, you’re on the right track. Work at building a strong proposition for your gift card, with at least 100 businesses and a good variety. Use the assets provided by Miconex, as they can save you a lot of time and be consistent.
“Collaboration, building the shop local message over a number of years, and consistently driving the gift card has undoubtedly contributed to our position as the area of the UK with the greatest rise in in-person sales since the pandemic. It’s good to see our businesses reaping the rewards, as they deserve it.”