COVID-19 has forced millions of people across the UK to shut up shop, bolt the doors and impatiently await signs of salvation.

As a result, the majority of consumers have turned to online shopping to get a hold of essential groceries, improve the home environment and alleviate ever-growing boredom.

These unparalleled times have placed severe pressure on retail executives, who are up against it to find differentiating e-commerce-led solutions that deliver essential, engaging and rewarding experiences to their customers.

One major brand which has been quick to move with the times is Waitrose & Partners.

The launch of e-gift cards

Last month (April 2020), the owner of Waitrose and John Lewis launched a new e-gift card to help NHS volunteers shop for elderly and vulnerable people unable to leave home due to the pandemic.

Customers can now buy an e-gift card online, which can be credited up to £500. The e-gift card can then be emailed directly to friends and family, as well as NHS volunteers, to use on their behalf in-store.

Waitrose & Partners are not alone. Marks & Spencer and Asda have also come up with similar offerings to create a safe way for vulnerable people to get their shopping without needing to share bank details.

These new e-gift card solutions have deservedly earned much praise from customers and the media alike, both for their innovative take on retail shopping and service to the local community during the COVID-19 crisis.

Good business sense

As well as providing genuine support to customers, the numbers reveal that e-gift card solutions also make good business sense.

The UK gift card industry was worth nearly £7bn in 2019, with online purchases accounting for 50% (£2.33bn) of total consumer expenditure on gift cards (source: Valuing the UK Gift Card Industry 2020 Report).

A survey from payments giant First Data has also found that more than half (51%) of consumers say that receiving a gift card will lead them to visit a store more often, while 38% want updates on their gift card balance sent via email.

With some form of social distancing likely to continue well into the future, this growing appetite for the e-gift card provides a unique opportunity for retail executives.

Not only can e-gift cards deliver enhanced and useful experiences during a time of need, but they also have the ability to maintain customer engagement, reward loyalty and boost acquisition.