Byline: Michael Hickins

NEW YORK — To increase sales and find new customers, Neiman Marcus has made its pre-paid gift cards available on the Internet.
For the project, the Dallas-based luxury chain signed an exclusive, two-year agreement with cyber startup The cards have not even been available on the store’s own web site,
“We want to make buying a gift certificate as convenient and thoughtful as possible,” said Jonas Lee, chief executive officer of at a reception Monday.
The partnership will help Neiman’s sell gift cards to customers who don’t shop at Neiman’s store.
Billy Payton, Neiman’s vice president of marketing and customer programs, said: “The agreement with is significant for us in that we can leverage their tremendous web presence to drive new sales to our 80-plus regional retail stores.”
An online presence will help the retailer broaden its demographic base and allow potential customers to buy and send gift certificates regardless of where they live.
“This is the first association outside Neiman Marcus where people can buy pre-paid gift certificates,” said Payton.
Richard Marcus, chairman of, is a former chief executive officer of Neiman Marcus.
Pre-paid gift cards, with their information-laden magnetic strips, allow retailers to track purchases and build customer profiles, while reducing gift-certificate transaction times and improving customer service. When customers spend less than their gift certificate’s value, the remaining value is stored on the card electronically, rather than through the issuance of a new voucher or cash credit.
Payton insisted, however, that Neiman’s developed the card concept to build customer loyalty and brand identity, not as a customer-profile management or cost-savings device. Neiman’s will also benefit from better exposure than most other vendors on the web site during the holiday season. Later this fall, will set its luxury clients apart for the duration of the holiday season. This kind of identification will be particularly useful to attract a newer generation of consumers. Currently, the site segments merchants by category, but “luxury” is not one of those categories.
While the old paper gift certificates were sold predominantly during the holiday season, pre-paid cards at Neiman’s have found them to be just as popular other times of the year, such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s and Father’s Days.
The retailer also makes special thank you, birthday and wedding cards available at its customer service desk, and adds outpost displays during the holiday season when sales are still liveliest. According to Payton, “pre-paid gift cards are an opportunity to serve our customers’ needs throughout the year, and they represent a year-round marketing effort.”
The cards also cater to collectors; one of their benefits is that customers can use the pre-paid value and then keep the cards themselves. Neiman’s also prints limited editions of the cards that reproduce the cover of Neiman Marcus’ catalog each month.
The card can also be used to promote special events, such as the retailer’s salute to Italy, “Festa di Italia,” being held Sept. 25 to Oct. 23. Neiman’s is launching this event with a gala at its flagship Dallas store on the evening of Sept. 24 and offering limited-edition pre-paid gift cards featuring this celebration. Ten-dollar cards will be given away to all attendees and a $1,000 pre-paid card will be drawn during the event.
Neiman’s launched gift cards in 1994. Paper certificates “weren’t fun to buy anymore,” said Payton, even though Neiman’s embellished them by adding color, ribbons and envelopes.
Payton said the new cards sell better than the old variety.