On March 18, I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the annual UK Gift Card & Voucher Association (UKGCVA) conference held at the Lancaster Hotel in London. The trade body represents the key players in the U.K. gift voucher and gift card markets. It promotes best practices within the industry and works with government agencies on industry legislation.
The annual conference brings together UKGCVA members and a broad range of delegates and industry participants from Europe and the United States. This year’s one-day conference had three main sections. The first, a review and update on the U.K. retail landscape, revealed that the U.K.’s domestic gift card market has rebounded strongly since the global economic and financial crisis. According to the UKGCVA, the domestic gift card market (including sales of both business-to-business and consumer gift cards) grew by over 7% in 2014, with sales of B2B cards marginally outpacing sales of consumer gift cards. For more information on the state of the U.K. gift card market, I encourage you to visit the UKGCVA website.
The second section focused on the rise of digital gifting. Presentations showed how new technologies and consumer preferences are changing the way in which consumers are gifting. They ranged from presentations on mobile payments and digital currencies to those by industry players (Eagle Eye, InComm Digital, SVS, First Data, and Smart Gift) which detailed how their business is adapting to increased digital commerce use by consumers. First Data’s presentations highlighting its acquisition of Gyft and Smart Gift demonstrate that an omnichannel approach is emerging in gifting that allows consumers to use physical cards, mobile phones, and online channels to complete and send/receive gift cards.
The third section of the conference had two different paths. One offered case studies from across the market, while the other focused on U.K. and European regulation. I followed the regulation path and found valuable the insight into the harmonization of different rules and regulations regarding the Value Added Tax (VAT) and Payments Service Directive (PSD2). After this section, I participated on a panel with leading prepaid experts titled: “Further Afield – Trends and Tips from Europe and the USA.” Perhaps the most interesting part of this panel discussion was a debate concerning the number of years behind or ahead a market may be. The United States is clearly a market leader in prepaid and gifting, but the opportunity for other markets like the Netherlands, Poland, and Germany to close the gap is rapidly growing.
The annual UKGCVA conference is one of the more narrowly focused events on the payments industry calendar, but I feel this focus allows conference attendees to benefit from deeper discussions of this market segment and the way the U.K. market is developing. I would hope to see other growing prepaid markets implement similar conferences, and I look forward to attending UKGVCA Conference 2016 next year.