Q&A with Teri Llach, Blackhawk Network
Blackhawk Network doesn’t really believe in slowing down. The Pleasanton, Calif.-based global financial technology company has been on an acquisition spree for the past several years. Most recently, it paid approximately $175 million for CashStar to establish itself firmly as a digital gifting powerhouse. But it’s also scooped up GiftCards.com and a slew of incentives businesses. The key to its expansion mission echoes what it first set out to do when it launched its first Gift Card Mall in 2001—to give consumers what they want, where, how and when they want it.
Ahead of Money2020 and the busiest shopping season of the year, Paybefore spoke with Blackhawk Network’s Chief Marketing Officer, Teri Llach, about connecting with consumers in every channel.
As a company, where do you start when trying to enable omnichannel commerce? What are the key elements?
Teri Llach: It goes back to the consumer. Always. At Blackhawk, we think of ourselves as a B2B company, but whether we partner with Kroger or Amazon, ultimately, the person dishing out the money or using the incentive card is a consumer.
No matter what channel you’re in—incentive, digital or in-store—you have to make sure you’re providing an excellent experience for the consumer. For Blackhawk, that means developing the channel so that we’re effectively giving consumers the ability to get the gift card they want, when they want it and with added benefits such as personalization.
At the end of the day, you may have to execute differently depending on the channel, but you have to give consumers a variety of options in terms of gift card design, brand and load value, as well as a seamless checkout process.
From a technology standpoint, where are you investing and why?
TL: Blackhawk is investing in a lot of things, but our first priority is that our platform delivers value and is flexible. For example, if a partner wants to offer a bonus card, we have to be flexible enough to enable them to deliver those offers on the consumer side and on the B2B side.
We have to provide easy settlement and reporting and create reports that make it easy for our partners to run their businesses effectively. We already have those capabilities today, but we’re investing in tools to make them even better.
On the consumer side, we continue to invest in variety. We’re always looking at new concepts, like our mobile lottery program, cards that let users try out local restaurants, and giving consumers easy access to travel. In the lottery program, for example, the experience of playing the lottery is tied to mobile. Shoppers can activate their purchases via text and have their lottery numbers delivered in real time to a mobile phone with text and picture messaging capability. They can track their results virtually and have most prizes paid electronically from the phone. These are the types of experiences we’re working on aggressively. It’s about looking for innovative ways to add value.
Blackhawk Network got its start with the Gift Card Mall. How do you make that an omnichannel experience?
TL: You take what you did that worked for the consumer in-store and develop it effectively for the digital channel. You need to enable easy access to gifts and e-gifts, with all flexibility digital offers. Consumers want seamless integration between digital and offline; for example, buying a product online and having the option to pick it up at a retail location. The lines between channels are not blurring; they’ve already blurred.
All of us have to deliver on that. As an industry, we’re still developing ideas to capitalize on the opportunities omnichannel presents.
What’s your advice to the brands whose cards have traditionally lived in your physical Gift Card Malls? How do they connect with the digital consumer?
TL: At Blackhawk, the most important thing we tell them is, “Your brand is valuable.” The brand is important always. So, when you execute your digital strategy with gift or e-gift, or if you want to execute in-store, do it in a way that enhances your brand.
Make sure you have a partner as dedicated to the consumer experience as you are—a partner who also has really focused tech.
Connecting with the consumer isn’t overly complicated. Make sure you offer a wide selection and an easy way to purchase, including alternative payment methods. Everything you’ve thought through in-store has to also be delivered online and via mobile.
What about the distribution partners? Would the strategy be any different for them?
TL: I don’t think I would tell them anything different. You don’t have to overthink it, but you do have to execute.
Let’s talk about brand loyalty because I’ve heard that millennials can be pretty fickle. How do you account for that?
TL: I’ve heard that, but I’ve seen studies—including research from Blackhawk— that finds that millennials are very loyal IF you provide them with a good customer experience. I’d say that millennials are demanding rather than fickle. They’ve lived a life where everything has been at their fingertips. Older generations used to look things up in the library or the encyclopedia. Millennials Google it. And, they can get any type of food at any time of day delivered right to their doors. There isn’t much that they can’t have at any given time.
In the retail and payments industries, we have to recognize that and deliver. The power has always been in the consumers’ hands, but it’s more aggressively in their hands than it used to be.
Because of social media?
TL: Well that, and because if you don’t give them the right price point, they’ll go online and get it at online or ask you to match the price.
Across your business lines, what are your partners anxious to bring to market?
TL: It varies depending on what they do with us. If they’re a provider of a mall, then it’s about content and new categories, new flavors, what’s coming out.
For the content providers in an incentive program, it’s about new options to engage. For many of them, incentives is an incremental channel they want to grow. Some of the things we’re doing with FIs enable them to get into the banks’ loyalty programs.
Really, they’re all looking at us to grow their business overall—not just sell gift cards, but to get their brand in the hands of someone that’s going to use it.
Gift cards are a marketing tool, which I love because I’m in marketing. This thing in someone’s wallet or phone is going to help me market and grow my business overall.
Any hints at what we can expect this holiday shopping season?
TL: There are going to be lots of great value and targeted offers that are going to make this an exciting holiday for consumers. Retailers are under a lot of pressure to have a great holiday with all the digital and in-store competition. At the end of the day, it’s about delivering value across channels in a simple way that’s free. Who doesn’t love that?
By Loraine DeBonis, former Editor-in-Chief, Paybefore