Target's Giftcard Digital Strategy Works Well, Unless You Want To Actually Use The Card

Part of the purpose of giftcards is to get new customers into a store. Another part is making them happy with how easily they can spend money with the giftcard-issuing chain. Although the new giftcard options Target announced last Friday (Nov. 2) make it easier for customers to buy giftcards, they actually make it hard for card recipients to use them.

The problem: Target's giftcards don't move easily between the chain's in-store, E-Commerce and mobile systems, each of which is in its own silo. Putting QR codes in-store to let people buy electronic giftcards is a fine, no-fuss step—but then making it particularly tedious to move those cards to the recipient's preferred channel is not the way to make those new customers happy with Target.

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According to Target's announcement of new "digital options" for giftcards: "For the first time, the giftcard displays in Target stores will offer guests the opportunity to send a digital giftcard. Guests can scan the QR code on the display to electronically send a giftcard directly to the recipient. Additionally, mobile giftcards allow guests to send giftcards digitally to another phone or E-mail address anytime from or the Target app."

It went on: "Recipients of any Target GiftCard—physical or digital—can create a Target Mobile GiftCard by saving the card's barcode to their Target account. To redeem the value, guests can access the barcode with a mobile phone and present it at the register to be scanned."

That certainly makes it sound like Target has set up a series of barcodes that would make it easy for customers or giftcard recipients to turn a physical plastic giftcard into an E-Commerce giftcard, or move it to a smartphone so it could be used either online or in-store. Very sharp, we thought.

Not exactly. Even Target's people admit that the systems are severely siloed, with mobile, in-store and E-Commerce giftcards not designed to work together or interchangeably.

But we figured these new barcodes must still simplify the process of moving the giftcard to the form the recipient wants. Even with channels in their own silos, barcodes should make it easy to move the giftcards around. So we tried it.

What we discovered is that Target has made it easy to scan a QR code off an in-store display, in addition to making it easy to cash in a mobile giftcard at a POS, where the cashier scans the barcode on the phone's screen.

In between, it's miserable.

The QR-code-enabled displays weren't in stores we checked this week on either coast (despite the statement's assurance that they would in all stores November 4, so we tried the system by buying a giftcard online and sending it to an E-mail address. What arrived was a 15-digit giftcard number, an 8-digit access number and a set of instructions for redeeming the giftcard.

Want to use it at You'll need to manually type in the 15-digit and 8-digit numbers at checkout time.

Want to use it at Target's mobile-commerce site? You need to create an account and manually type in the numbers. That isn't made easier by the fact that the E-mail containing the giftcard numbers and instructions gives the wrong URL for that process ( It took several failed tries (we got really tired of seeing Target's error dog over and over) before a call to customer service turned up the right URL ( without the m.).

Want to use the giftcard in-store? You need to create the mobile account (at the correct URL, which requires a call to customer service), manually type in the numbers, then click on the on-screen giftcard icon that's been generated to get to the 2D barcode that you can show to the cashier to use the giftcard balance.

Want to move a giftcard that was bought in-store to one of those other silos, just as the chain's news release encourages shoppers to do? On the back, there are 15-digit and 8-digit numbers. By now you can guess what you're supposed to do with those—more manually typing of numbers.

Target's idea of making it easier to buy giftcards is a good one. That's where the money comes from, and being able to scan a QR code and easily send the card electronically is reasonably slick (or at least we assume it will be, once those QR codes are actually in the stores). (Note to Target: When you issue a statement of what is supposed to be in your stores and online, you might want to send people memos. We spoke with more than a dozen giftcard specialists in your call center and nine store managers in various Target stores and not one had been aware of what you announced.)

But it's as if Target completely forgot about the pain points for the person receiving an electronic giftcard (or a plastic card that the recipient wants to use electronically). We're pretty sure no one in command at Target has actually tested those instructions we received, at least not recently. If they had, several rounds of seeing Bullseye the Error Dog would have made sure the bad URL was fixed so that it isn't impossible for an electronic giftcard recipient to cash it in.

And after laboriously keying in all those digits, we're pretty sure they'd be asking the same questions we are: Why not a more liberal use of barcodes or QR codes, so the same type of camera-equipped smartphone that can buy a giftcard can also easily move it to a mobile or E-Commerce account? Why is the whole process so kludgy on the recipient's end? And why would anyone who receives a Target giftcard ever want to shop at Target after that?