Fairfield hopes gift card program brings more holiday business

FAIRFIELD — As the holiday shopping season approaches, a program aiming to support local businesses has performed better than expected, officials said.

Beverly Balaz, the president of the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce, said one year after its creation, the e-gift card program has sold more than $76,000. The program, known as Love Local, is a collaboration of the chamber and the town, and sells digital gift cards redeemable exclusively at participating Fairfield businesses.

“When we launched this program at the very end of October last year, we didn’t quite know,” she said. “The result has been just fantastic.”

Balaz said residents and community members have supported the program, adding the chamber has a goal of reaching $100,000 in sales before the end of the year. She said she believes they will hit that number during the holiday season.

First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick noted that the effort was especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“From the very beginning of the pandemic, Fairfield residents quickly stepped up to help our community through fundraising, food collection, curbside pick-ups, and getting dinner to go at our restaurants to help them stay open,” Kupchick said in a statement. “The e-gift program gives our residents another opportunity to support restaurants, coffee shops, and local retail stores. The holidays are coming, and this program makes gift giving easy and supports our local businesses.”

Of the $75,000 worth of cards purchased, Balaz said, approximately 50 percent has gone back into the community already.

“We can tell exactly where the e-gift cards were redeemed, which is what is very nice about having this partner work with us, called Yiftee,” she said. “We’re working on redemption reminders right now. Also, when a recipient receives an e-gift card through email or through their phone, a monthly reminder goes out to them.”

Balaz said the e-gift card has advantages to typical plastic card because the former can end up staying in wallets or drawers — never to be used. She also said the cards are formatted in a way that they do not require the businesses to change or update their point-of-sale system at all if they already accepted Mastercard.

“It’s easy to use. Their staff understands it,” she said. “It’s been easy.”

She noted the cards have been drawing people to businesses.

“One of the statistics is that, typically, card holders spend approximately 30 percent over card value, which is nice,” she said.

With a goal of getting people into local stores, maybe for the first time, Balaz said the program is doing its job.

“The numbers are unbelievable, and we are so proud of our community for purchasing these cards, because it just demonstrates how strongly we want to support our business community and keep it as vibrant as it is,” she said. “Business owners are very enthusiastic about it.”

Matt Anderson, the manager of Mo’s Wine and Spirits, said they have had a bunch of customers shop using the gift cards.

“I don’t know the exact percentage of customers who have come in with it, or how much it’s helping, but I know we’ve seen quite a few,” he said. “It’s definitely a good thing and I’m pretty sure both the owners are happy to be a part of it.”

Lauren Cavalli, the owner and manager of Luigi’s restaurant, said they have redeemed maybe 20 gift cards since the program’s inception last year.

“It was probably existing customers,” she said.

Other business owner’s say they have not seen much impact from the program. Sonia Lopez, the owner of Sonia/s Gourmet Kitchen, said no customers have come in and used the gift cards in the few months since she has signed up for the program.

“I keep looking for it, because that’s a little investment that we did,” she said, speaking to the small fee it took to sign up for the program. “Hopefully, it’s going to bring new customers and, of course, more business.”

Balaz said those numbers could grow with the upcoming ninth annual holiday Shop & Stroll event, a collaboration between the town of Fairfield and the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce, on Dec. 9. She noted this is another effort by town and business officials to encourage people to shop local.

“We’re pretty sure we are going to have a lot of (e-gift card) redemption coming in,” she said. “People can buy gifts. They can buy a bottle of wine or whatever for the holidays as well, in addition to treating themselves.”

Last year, Balaz said, the chamber looked at what they could do to offset the impact of the pandemic on local businesses. She said the e-gift cards and overall Love Local program have worked.

“I think this has just been a great, great program, in addition to all the other things we’re doing,” she said. “With everything that the town is doing and the other things we do, this just rounds it out perfectly.”

For more information, please visit FairfieldCTChamber/GIFTCARDS.com. Or contact the chamber office: 203-255-1011.

joshua.labella@hearstmediact.com