Two years on from the onset of pandemic restrictions, a York business has highlighted the power of local gift cards to drive retail recovery

In York, 58% of redemptions of the York Gift Card were at retail businesses, 32% at food and drink businesses, and 4% at both accommodation and leisure/attractions. Over 300 businesses are part of the York Gift Card, making it the largest local gift card in the UK. York was one of the top ten local gift cards in 2021.

Independent department store Browns in York is one of the most popular places to redeem a York Gift Card. Angela Horner (pictured) is the associate director and is part of the York BID Board:

“Browns was started by my great, great grandfather, Henry Rhodes Brown, who was Lord Mayor of York twice. The business was taken over by his son and expanded over the years from the Davygate location that opened in 1906 to include 3 other satellite stores in Helmsley, Beverley and Gainsborough. We’re proud to be a 5th generation, family owned business in the heart of York.

“I think Browns is one of the most popular places to spend a York Gift Card because we’ve got a wide offer. The brands, the departments, fashion, cosmetics, handbags, shoes. Local people love Browns, they’re very fond of it, and they’re happy to be able to spend their gift card with us. They’re not looking for the practical, they want to treat themselves with something decadent such as cosmetics or a handbag. If they’d never normally spend quite so much on a perfume or a handbag, or maybe see a brand as being a little bit expensive, having a gift card gives people the permission to spoil themselves.

“Being a part of the York Gift Card encourages new people through the door, and then, they have a positive experience, and we can convert them into loyal, regular customers. The good thing about the gift card is that it can be spent on a whole experience of the city. In York we have a really strong independent scene, we have lots of tourists and a big student population. The York Gift Card works for everyone.

“What’s interesting in 2022 is that even though we’re still crazy about internet shopping in the UK, much more than in other countries, internet shopping fatigue is setting in with certain things. If you want to buy something a bit more interesting, you want to go to a store and see the item, have a conversation with a real person. The buzzword now is experiential retail. It’s about people engaging with your brand, as much as the sale itself.

“Retail and the high street will survive if it adapts, and initiatives like the York Gift Card play a big part in that. By getting behind the gift card, we’re all working together to bring people into the city centre. It’s a ‘use it or lose it’ situation with shops. If people don’t shop with the businesses, they won’t be here. The York Gift Card is a very positive thing to drive footfall, and that’s what we need. Everyone at Browns has been delighted with it. The York Gift Card has exceeded our expectations and is going from strength to strength.”

Retail and hospitality have been particularly impacted by the pandemic. UK Hospitality estimates that the hospitality sector lost over £80 billion in sales between April 2021 and March 2021, equating to £220 million each day. Meanwhile, the BRC estimates that the three lockdowns cost non-essential retail an estimated £22billion in lost sales.

Payments provider Miconex says that independent retail and hospitality businesses were the most popular places for consumers to spend their local gift cards in 2021.

“Looking at the data for the 2021 top 10 Town & City Gift Card programmes, including the York Gift Card, we can see that overall, 72% of redemptions were for retailers with 19% for food and drink based businesses,” said Colin Munro, managing director of Miconex. “Local gift cards have the power to support retail and hospitality recovery, and many other sectors too.

“Independent businesses made up 83% of registered merchants in 2021 across the top 10 programmes. Two years on from the start of the pandemic and small, independent businesses need our support more than ever. ONS data shows that there were 6.5% fewer private sector businesses in January 2021, the largest fall in 20 years.

“One in seven UK businesses are at risk of failure by April 2022. Town & City Gift Cards give places the opportunity to support independent businesses in the industries that need it most.”