An accidental tryst with the Gift Card industry in the UAE

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

A gifting opportunity

Having recently received an Al Futtaim gift card for my secret santa recently (lazy gifting, but take what you get and spin it into a positive right?), I was forced down the journey of a gift card owner. I was surprised by the lack of product thinking that went into the making of this product. Curious, I looked outside to all major retailers to understand the level of evolution gift cards have reached in Dubai. And I wasn’t surprised — most retailers are in the process of improving their gift card program. In their defence, the reasons for this can be many, the primary one being that gift cards bring only a minor percentage of business. Although, it is rumoured that over 10% of MAF mall business comes from gift cards and the industry itself is valued over USD500 million.

The Gift Card industry in the UAE

Without going into too many details, here are the biggest retailers and their gift card programs:

Here are their websites:

Al Futtaim Gift Card:
Majid Al Futtaim Gift Card:
Landmark Gift Card:
Emaar Gift Card:

There are other retailers who’re not featured here — I will expand on that in the end.

To rate the 4 gift cards we’ll need factors. From a purely customer standpoint, here are the top 5 factors:

1. Ease of checking card balance
If I can simply google the name of the card and get to a website that allows me to enter the card number and it pops the card value, then the card gets a 10/10. Any other convoluted process or absence of the above reduces the rating significantly.

2. Availability
Very simply, can you get the card online (10), get it delivered to a location of your choice (7) or have to go into a store and get it (0)? The scoring would have been different, but thanks to, the field is almost leveled, except for a few participants.

3. Presentation
A card that presents all the options at your disposal — from getting help to knowing the balance to knowing the brands where it is eligible — right on its body, gets a 10. Anything lower, gets lower scores.

4. Assistance
3 points per channel (store, phone, online), bonus +1 for all 3.

5. Bonus features
If the card has a ecommerce usage(+2), stand-alone website (+2), packaging swap (+2), gets the bonus points. Additionally, all three features gets a +4 additional, two gets +2 bonus on bonus, making the maximum possible score 50 (complex isn’t it? Had to make the total to 50)

Here is the output for the four primary retailers in Dubai:

I’ll write a separate piece on as to how I rated the gift cards (comment if you’d like to read that), but it is fairly obvious why certain retailers are where they are…

How could they have improved?

To understand how they could have improved, let’s take a product management view of the gift card.

First, take a look at the two most common case of owning or getting a gift card:

  1. Buying a gift card for another person

Fairly simple flow — the gift card is purchased for User B; User B uses or passes it on (to User C) or the cycle stops there.

2. Getting a gift card as a credit

Certain brands may choose to give credit back as a gift card, allowing for purchasing across the brand stores or parent company brands. Regardless, the flow is the same after the first step.

Next, let’s look at the customer needs (based on personal experience):
1. Ease of knowing the card balance
2. Ease of availability
3. Presentable/Alluring
4. Usable across wide variety of brands
5. Secure and robust

Now, when you design an MVP, here are the gift card features you’d mark as required:

a. Ease of knowing the card balance
b. Ease of availability
c. Presentable/Alluring

It’s a no-brainer to note that the card balance checking feature is an essential feature, specially given the tech savvy customer in the UAE.

A few other features that would be great to have:

  1. Mobile app integration — Most of these retailers have their own own mobile apps (Carrefour, Landmark brands etc). The ability to have this gift card scanned and managed through the app would be a good to have feature.
  2. Reusability — keeping in mind the environment, the ability to reuse the cards (providing the pack that comes with the card separately, and on demand) would be a huge benefit. I have 3 used MAF gift cards which I cannot reuse or gift further.

It may seem harsh, but retailers tend to push out products which are in the process of improvement. Regardless, they are all on a path to improve customer experience, some faster than others. Technology challenges are present, in a large way, specially for big retailers… something which many retailers are fixing with the help of strong product teams and customer centric departments ensuring products are tailored to the masses.

Product thinking must be made mandatory across all the function of any business. The ability to look at any business mandate as a customer journey, to and from the acquisition/utilization of the product, is critical to success. Putting the customer at the center of any product will save a lot of grievances and improve product adoption.

Why other retailers were left out

The reason why some retailers were left behind is that they didn’t really have a single gift card or didn’t have it readily available for me to experience. Al Tayer gift card is brand specific, and hence isn’t a retailer gift card. Apparel gift card is hard to find, asking for one got me a puzzled look — i was asked to buy the MAF card!

I’ve a strong feeling that with taking over the gifting needs, small retailers would be shying away from owning the logistics of a gift card.

If you’d like to read more about my gift card journey and the rationale behind the ratings, please leave a comment and follow. If you had an issue with what I’ve written, please feel free to write in the comments… these are only my views, and hence are as flawed as I am :) Thank you for reading!

1. Thanks to Stuart for pointing out the flaws in the user flow.
2. The ranking scale has been adjusted to make the article more palatable.

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