Journal-World opens online gift card store focusing on offerings from local businesses

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The day after KU won the NCAA National Championship, the Journal-World set up a folding card table outside our office door to sell copies of the newspaper. We sold so many that I joked if I had gotten an MBA, I would have thought to set up two card tables.

Less visible but even busier were our online sales operations at shop.Lawrence.com. We sold newspapers and other souvenirs at a very rapid rate. It was a nice boost in business, but also a reminder that we really needed to complete a project that had been on our minds for a while: an expansion of our online store at shop.Lawrence.com.

This week, we did. We’ve launched a new operation where we hope to become the top one-stop-shop for people who want to buy a gift card from a Lawrence business. Currently, we have partnerships with seven local businesses, and we are actively creating more. I expect restaurants will be a big part of the store and, indeed, we have gift card offerings from several already, including Wayne & Larry’s, Jade Garden, Yello Sub, Perkins and Lawrence KS Wing Co.

But, I also expect we’ll have lots of other categories. Some will be everyday needs, such as the offerings we have from Checkers Foods. Others will be specialty services that might make a nice gift, like the house cleaning services from Stanley Steemer. In the future, I suspect we will have some offerings from entertainment venues, whether that be bowling alleys, escape rooms, golf courses or any number of offerings.

The idea behind the store is simple enough. It came from my laziness as a gift buyer. I frequently opt for a gift card because it’s simple yet still requires some thought; people can get what they want, and given that it fits in an envelope, I won’t be disobeying strict orders to stay away from the wrapping paper (and especially the Scotch tape.)

I frequently found myself at a place like Dillons that had a gift card kiosk. That worked well enough, but I noticed that my options at such a kiosk were really national chains, some of which don’t even have a presence in Lawrence. I’m not a national chain basher, but I definitely did think it would be nice to have an easier way to buy several local gift cards in one fell swoop. As a company, we already had invested in the technology to do online commerce in an easy and secure manner, so the idea of adding gift cards to our offerings was very doable.

At this point, I should pause and highlight something that hopefully is already obvious. While I write about new businesses all the time as a reporter, today I’m writing in my capacity as publisher of the Journal-World. While I don’t often use this space to talk about Journal-World initiatives (news of inner newspaper workings isn’t quite as juicy as a Whataburger update,) I decided to write about the gift card store nonetheless. We are going to do a lot of marketing for the store, and I thought a more detailed explanation might be helpful as you start seeing ads for it.

That marketing piece is another reason we decided to move forward with the gift card store. Providing marketing services to businesses is a foundational part of our business. Between our print products and multiple websites, we easily have more than 40,000 connections with people every day, and some days it is a lot more than that. We have multiple social media accounts each with more than 30,000 followers. We have an email database of tens of thousands of people.

In short, we have lots of ways to connect with people, which we think will be a benefit for the gift card store and for the businesses that partner with us. They are going to benefit from our marketing efforts to sell their gift cards. Plus, we’ll get creative. As we grow our offerings, I anticipate we will start offering bundled packages of gift cards — maybe we will have a taste of Lawrence package offering gift cards to several restaurants, or perhaps a ready-made date night with a restaurant and an entertainment venue, or any number of other combinations.

At times, we’ll also offer good deals. We’re a store, so we’ll have some sales. We have one now where you get $5 off your first purchase if you enter the code SAVE5 at checkout. But, we also aren’t looking to become a knockoff of Groupon. Our partnerships with businesses don’t involve the businesses agreeing to sell their goods or services at artificially low rates. That’s not very sustainable. We’re betting that there is a good market of gift card buyers in Lawrence who sometimes will come to us because they are looking for a deal, and other times will come to us because they simply want to conveniently buy some local gift cards.

As for how those buyers get their gift cards, they can pick them up at our office in North Lawrence during normal business hours, or we will mail them to you for no charge. We also will continue to offer other items through our online store at shop.Lawrence.com. The gift cards will be a big part of the store, but so too will be our KU souvenirs, and we expect to have other types of offerings in the future.

In sum, I’m excited about this venture. For one, it will allow me to be even lazier in my gift buying. But the project also has a great side benefit. Obviously, I’m more of a journalist than a retailer, and that’s not changing. The company continues to grow in important ways on that front. In a year when even Netflix lost subscribers, LJWorld continued to grow its number of digital subscribers in 2022. Producing quality journalism will continue to be the bedrock of the Journal-World.

Now, though, you have an additional way to support it. Revenues from the gift card store certainly will help fund our journalism operations. Whether that is on your mind or not, I’m hopeful you’ll find our new online gift card store to be another way that the Journal-World provides something useful in your daily life.

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