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Using tech to drive economic recovery through gift cards

Antrim Castle Mall Manager Pamela Minford and Mayor Cllr Jim Montgomery get behind Back in Business.

Towns and cities in Northern Ireland are using technology to drive local economic recovery through gift card programmes that lock spend into the local economy, encouraging residents to shop locally.

Antrim in Northern Ireland launched its Town and City Gift Card in November. Town and City Gift Card programmes are already active across Northern Ireland in Belfast, the Causeway Coast and Glens, Strabane, and Enniskillen.

Cards are branded to the town or city and work like local currency. Recipients of the gift card can redeem it with registered businesses in that place.

The Town and City Gift Cards programme from Scottish tech firm Miconex picked up the award for best use of prepaid at the Incentive Awards in September, and over 50 towns and cities in the UK and Ireland now have programmes.

Business activity increased in Northern Ireland in September for the third month running reported the October Ulster Bank PMI, at 51.9, up from 51.7 in August, both above the 50.0 ‘no change’ mark. However, job cuts in Northern Ireland have increased for the seventh consecutive month. Northern Ireland is one of the areas of the UK with the greatest percentage of jobs at risk suggests McKinsey data.

In Northern Ireland, the new Antrim Gift Card can be redeemed with over 35 traders in the town and supports the council’s Back in Business campaign says Karen Uprichard of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council:

“The idea for a gift card programme first came when a large local employer called me and asked if we had a gift card for the town as they wanted to buy some to reward their staff. When I heard about the Town and City Gift Cards scheme, it was welcome news.

“We have a whole range of traders ready to accept the Antrim Gift Card, from food and beverage to health and beauty, shopping, florists, high street stores and small independent shops too. Our businesses have done so well to adapt their businesses during the restrictions, and later, to be covid secure. The biggest thank you we can give them is showing our support with the Antrim Gift Card.

“The council’s Back in Business campaign featured some live entertainment in Antrim and staff distributed face coverings and hand sanitiser as part of our efforts to welcome people back to the town. Since Covid we have noticed a shift in shopping habits and that people want to shop locally, especially. Buying even a £20 Antrim Gift Card will make such a difference to local businesses now and in the run up to the festive season.”

Belfast launched its Belfast City Centre Gift Card in November 2019. In September 2020, as a collaboration between the three Business Improvement Districts in the area:  Belfast One, Linen Quarter BID and Destination CQ BID, the Belfast City Centre Gift Card became a central part in a campaign, #GiftTheCity, to drive local economic recovery.

Over 155 businesses are currently registered to receive the Belfast City Centre Gift Card across a wide variety of places ranging from retail, health and beauty, bars, restaurants and hotels.

Christmas corporate orders for the Belfast City Centre Gift Card are being encouraged with a 10% ‘cash back’ (via Belfast City Centre Gift Card) offer on all Belfast City Centre Gift Card orders of £1000 or more between now and 20th December 2020. The card is valid for 12 months from date of purchase.

Kathleen McBride from Belfast One said: “The BIDS working together on this initiative is essential during these difficult times. With over 155 shops, restaurants and businesses already taking part, and more signing up, we hope the Belfast City Centre Gift Card will encourage visitors and shoppers to support all those involved. As we approach the Christmas period, the message is buy now, spend later and help support our city centre businesses. The Belfast City Centre Gift Card is a safe and easy gift solution.  It can be purchased online and delivered straight to the recipient with a gift message. By giving the gift of the city, people are helping the Belfast economy and supporting participating businesses located across the 3 BIDS locations.”

Enniskillen in Northern Ireland has operated its Town and City Gift Card programme since September 2017 and over £150,000 has been spent through the programme since then. The town will launch a Mi Rewards loyalty programme to complement its gift card in December. Drogheda in the east and Ballinrobe in the west of Ireland launched new gift cards in November and December.

Colin Munro, managing director of Miconex said: “We’re pleased to be working across Ireland with places committed to locking in local spend and supporting local economic recovery. Our existing programmes in Northern Ireland have proven how local gift card schemes can benefit communities, protecting local jobs and local businesses.

“Gift cards purchased for Christmas tend to be redeemed in the first months of the year, when it tends to be quieter. Many traders rely on Christmas sales to see them through these quieter months. Amazon earned $7 billion in sales on Prime Day alone but when you buy from a small, local business in Northern Ireland, it can make the difference as to whether they are still trading in 2021. This year, more than ever, we need to shop local.”

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