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Switching up for success: the Downtown Lynchburg Gift Card

The Downtown Lynchburg Gift Card launched in Virginia, USA on the 19th November 2020, powered by Miconex and EML Payments, replacing an earlier gift card programme. Achieving $35,000 in sales within the first two months, Downtown Lynchburg has demonstrated a clear path to transitioning from an old gift card programme. 

Downtown Lynchburg Association has a mission of creating a strong, vibrant and welcoming downtown and is an accredited programme of the Virginia Main Street, the National Main Street Center, and the International Downtown Association. 

Susan Brown, Programme Director for the Downtown Lynchburg Association said:

“We wanted to introduce a gift card programme for many years, but this became even more important in the pandemic to support our downtown restaurants, retailers, attractions, hotels and services. There are around 80,000 residents in Lynchburg and 280,000 in the wider area. Occupation for our downtown storefronts is around 75%. In 2020, we had access to a $20,000 grant from the Virginia Main Street programme which enabled us to push ahead and introduce the Downtown Lynchburg Gift Card. 

“Another way we fundraised was through a telethon, live streamed, embedded on our website and featuring content clips. It was a busy day with four members of staff, but with corporate sponsors and match funding, we raised $50,000, some of which went towards the gift card programme. 

“The initial gift card programme we selected wasn’t right for us, and we decided early on that the switch had to be made to Miconex and EML. The priority when we made the switch was to collect in the old cards and replace them. We came up with a $5 bonus to encourage people to send the ‘vintage cards’ back to us for replacement. All they had to do was take a picture of the back of the vintage card and send it to us telling us where they’d like the new card mailed to, with the same amount loaded and an extra $5 bonus. 

“Our next focus was on encouraging new sales for the Downtown Lynchburg Gift Card. We set aside $5000 dollars for promotion with a $5 bonus for every $20 spend. This was really successful and ran right up to the 20th December 2020 for in person sales, and the 16th December online. 

“Having in person locations to buy the gift card worked out really well with around 40% of our sales in the first two months being in person sales. One of the locations where people can buy the card is Gilded, which sells lots of gift type items. Interestingly, it’s also one of the most popular places for people to redeem their cards too. 

“The other most popular places for redemption have been restaurants and casual dining places. Coffee shops have also been really popular with more transactions but at lesser value than the restaurants. Having that redemption data will be fantastic for us, and I really look forward to when our arts venues are open again and we can see the Downtown Lynchburg Gift Card being spent there.”

There are around 35 businesses registered to receive the gift card as payment in January 2020- with a goal of 50 businesses by spring 2021.

“Showing people how they could use the Downtown Lynchburg Gift Card was key,” said Susan. “We featured an influencer as a guest blog on our site, writing about how they spent their card in Downtown Lynchburg. We were also fortunate that 3 local companies used the card for their employees, in place of the Visa gift card they usually buy. Where the Visa gift card can be spent anywhere, the Downtown Lynchburg is just for our area, keeping money here and supporting our businesses.

“Now Christmas has passed, our focus has switched to encouraging people to spend their cards. We’ve used Instagram with an explainer video, emails to our database of 4000 customers and reminding businesses to post stories about how the Downtown Lynchburg Gift Card can be spent with them. It’s more of a personal push, using non-conventional ways to keep the gift card top of mind and our content fresh. 

“At the start, we didn’t really know what to expect in terms of sales,” Susan comments. “Particularly as we were changing programmes and had that extra strand to consider. But, we’re definitely happy with the success of the programme.”