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Paper or Plastic? Technology Fuels Gift Card Popularity and Access as an Alternative to Cash Incentives and Gifts

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., May 19 /PRNewswire/ -- Gift cards have dramatically evolved over the last decade, along with the technology that supports them. Once viewed strictly as a last-minute gift for hard-to-shop-for friends and family, gift cards are now a common currency in just about everyone's billfold or purse. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers spent $25 billion on gift cards in the 2009 holiday season.


Today, an increasing portion of gift card sales is for corporate use, as employee incentives, promotions, and rebates. As a prepaid card pioneer, iCARD Systems continues to innovate to meet this growing demand for plastic and electronic gift cards.

The scale and complexity of corporate orders belies the simplicity of the rectangular piece of plastic that ends up in people's wallets and purses. A diverse array of technology is required to service such orders. The mere logistics of ordering, personalizing, activating, packaging, and delivering a single 10,000 card corporate order are daunting enough. But before shipping off the order, consider the technology involved to accept payment, and comply with anti-money-laundering measures and the Patriot Act. Without technology and years of experience, this single order might take weeks to get out the door!

iCARD Gift Card, a Florida company and affiliate of iCARD Systems delivers individual prepaid cards and gift cards to thousands of individual locations each and every week of the year. Fortunately, some entrepreneurial smarts, Web technology and good, old-fashioned know-how make the process highly efficient and error-free. iCARD provides prepaid Visa cards, an emailable Super Gift Card, and bulk merchant giftcards.

"The real trick in our business is to offer choice," said Jeff Ehney, iCARD's founder. "For example, we have an emailable gift card, a Super Gift Card, that allows the recipient to use the value to select the merchant gift cards that they want.  That way," he says, "an employer doesn't have to give every employee the same restaurant or merchant card. People are different. We all like different things. Likewise," he says, "our corporate customers all have unique programs that have specific goals, restrictions and requirements. Fortunately, prepaid Visa cards, an emailable Super Gift Card, and bulk merchant giftcards can each be modified to meet a client's specifications for their program."

An example of how iCARD uses technology to support the growth and diversity of gift cards can be seen in its emailable Super Gift Card product. iCARD uses some patent-pending technology for distribution of a unique value code, along with a customizable, e-greeting-type card that is delivered via email. Alternatively, it can be printed for hand-delivery. Either way, the code is redeemed at a redemption Web site,, where the recipient selects gift cards from nearly 170+ different popular merchants and restaurants. Macy's, Kohl's, iTunes and Starbucks are among the more popular merchants. Restaurants vary from national chains like TGIFriday's to more regionally popular choices like Longbranch Steakhouse.

iCARD's vaults are stocked with a healthy inventory of merchant gift cards to ensure timely fulfillment. Without iCARD's inventory management and accounting software, and strict cashflow management, this business would not be possible.

iCARD services both business and individuals. "Busy moms love us, because our iCARD Gift Card is perfect for last-minute gifting," said Strautman. "Oftentimes, they'll use our system to schedule delivery of their gift card ahead of time. That way, several orders can be placed at one time, ensuring that you won't miss an important birthday, anniversary, graduation or something else. It almost works like your personal assistant." iCARD provides template designs for nearly any occasion.

Meanwhile, on the corporate side of the business, iCARD provides easy online ordering to support programs as diverse as clinical trials compliance payments, health savings accounts, tire rebate programs, and payroll applications.                        

"iCARD was one of the first companies to provide prepaid Visa Gift Cards," Ehney said. "We made it easy for people to customize the embossing and put a special message on letter that goes with the card. We also made it easy for companies to order hundreds or thousands of cards at one time and deliver them in bulk or to individual addresses."

"iCARD's pioneering efforts in the industry are to be commended," said Strautman. "Back in 1998, Visa Gift Cards didn't exist. Now we supply Visa gift cards, merchant gift cards, restaurant gift cards and emailable gift cards."  

In fact, the companies latest offering allows a company to provide an entirely GREEN employee incentive, consumer promotion or product rebate. The reward is delivered via email and it is redeemed online for merchant gift codes that are good for online shopping. No plastic, no stamps, no waiting, and no mail trucks!

The technology required to support fulfillment, and service of all those gift cards is pretty amazing. iCARD's innovative ordering system is just the beginning. Consider what it takes to provide customer service for all those cards! "When customers contact us via phone or email, our systems must enable us to look up their order, see what it was charged to, see where it was shipped, see if the cards were activated, and see if the cards have been used," said Strautman. "That requires backend coordination of multiple databases and adept employees who are eager to please our customers."

To consumers, it may just be a valuable piece of plastic in their wallet or purse. Its simplicity of character and use belies the fact that it is a highly sophisticated form of currency, with an incredible amount of technology behind it.

About iCARD Systems

Founded in 1998, iCARD is a pioneer in the development of network-branded prepaid cards and was one of the first to offer Visa Gift Cards. Today, iCARD is a leading provider of all manner of gift cards for corporate incentives, promotions and rebates. Additionally, iCARD is a dominant player in digital gift card delivery. Its emailable, Super Gift Card gives recipients access to more than 170 top merchant brands. iCARD is an Independent Sales Organization for the Bancorp Bank and is a Hallmark Cards licensee. Its channel partners include American Greetings and AOL. iCARD has serviced more than 1,500 corporate clients and more than a million cardholders. Learn more at or order a gift card at

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