When George Bousis started working in his family’s grocery business, his fascination with technology led him to examine what it was that kept his customers coming back. That focus on technology, loyalty, and retention, eventually propelled George to found Raise, a marketplace for gift cards.
Bousis joins us on the podcast this week to discuss how his experience working in retail influenced his understanding of the pain points for both small and large retailers and his direction as a fintech founder. We talk about what’s driving demand for gift cards and the competitive dynamics of both supply and demand in that market. Lastly, Bousis unpacks some of the freshest trends in global e-commerce and payments and how his vision for Raise extends far beyond gift cards.
Below are highlights, edited for clarity, from the episode.
How did your background in a family grocery business influence Raise?
I grew up a professional gamer when e-sports was not cool. I played a game called Counter Strike and I was part of a few professional teams. That was my first interaction with technology and products. That influenced what I did my family’s grocery business, which is a tough business. It was my first opportunity to interact with our customers and figure out what kept them coming back. Was it the quality, pricing, or service?
My passion was around technology, customer loyalty, and retention. I was doing some research in the gift card space and realized it was one of the best offerings in the market. We could sell pre-paid value to a customer who would need to come back to make a purchase. We could drive promotions and offers through this mechanism that already worked with our software. There’s so much friction in the marketplace for retailers — we are stuck managing coupons, discounts, rewards, and loyalty points. It wasn’t until I really researched the gift card space that I realized the full opportunity to simplify acquisition, loyalty, and spend using gift cards as payments.
What’s driving consumer demand in gift cards?
The simplification of the overall process. The best example in the marketplace is probably Starbucks. Just five or six years ago, there wasn’t a Starbucks reward program and card. Today, it represents 40 percent of all the company’s transactions and growing. Not only does the card reduce friction in the experience but it allows Starbucks to interact directly with its customers using payments. For a consumer, there’s no need to manage dozens of apps and programs — there’s one specific offering that helps me to come back and value their currency.
What about growth on the supply side? How are merchants adopting new gift card technology?
Today, we’re partnered with over 400 retailers across the U.S. They’re using Raise to drive acquisition, loyalty and spend, but they also see gift cards as a way to offer credits for their brand and to keep it top of mind for their customers. When you think of all the ways a merchant can continue to interact with a customer with push notifications, spend, location and frequency of visits — there are so many ways they’re using our platform today.
How about the move to mobile and away from physical gift cards?
When we first started, the business was wildly physical, which was inefficient and full of friction. Customers had to wait days to receive a gift card they purchased. In the beginning, our customers skewed to more savvy mobile and web users. These guys have the “saver” and “planner” mentality. They would plan to go shopping over the weekend and would purchase gift cards at a discount to save money at the stores.
What’s changed over the years is that we’re becoming a mobile first company. Our customers are now using Raise as a payment mechanism. They using us to pay anywhere and everywhere they’re going because their money is always worth more. If I can buy something for less, why wouldn’t I use Raise first? Upwards of 95 percent of our transactions today are digital. These customers are in the store, buying a card and shopping right there and then. Different brands are able to sway customers into trying new things and enter new stores. We’ve helped our customers save over $140 million to date.