Local shopping has gone digital with Berkeley Bucks, Visit Berkeley’s new electronic gift cards redeemable only at Berkeley businesses.
Customers can purchase an e-gift card and view a map of the 104 local businesses that have signed up for this new city-based “counter-currency,” according to Jeffrey Church, visitor and partner services manager for Visit Berkeley. The Berkeley Bucks are intended to provide customers with a safe way to spend their money around town, Church added.
“The goal is to keep money in the community,” Church said. “We wanted to create this specific gift card to really keep that money in these local businesses (and) restaurants – places that people wanted to explore.”
According to Church, the Berkeley Bucks were proposed by the Downtown Berkeley Association in July 2021, initially only for downtown Berkeley. In partnership with Yiftee, a company that creates local e-gift cards, Visit Berkeley and local districts began raising business awareness in September 2021.
Alex Knox, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, said in an email that Berkeley Bucks will help boost sales for local businesses as consumers will now focus on local spending.
Any business that accepts Mastercard can be added to Berkeley Bucks, according to Church. Each e-gift card works like a “virtual Mastercard”. However, e-gift cards are not reloadable — if a customer runs out of money on their e-gift card, they must purchase a new one, Church said.
The Berkeley Bucks not only encourage local spending, but impose no additional fees on the customer or merchant, Church added. But for Visit Berkeley, the lack of additional fees comes at a price. Church said the service fee, normally applied to the customer, is covered by Visit Berkeley.
“The last thing we want people to think is that they have to pay for a gift card,” Church said. “We wanted to make it as accessible as possible.”
Berkeley Bucks can only be purchased online with a credit or debit card, and can only be redeemed by email or phone – there are no physical cards. Church added that for Berkeley residents who do not have an email or phone, purchasing Berkeley Bucks will not be possible.
Other hurdles include signing up older merchants and smaller stores that don’t have the technology or time to learn this system, according to Church. To help local businesses, Visit Berkeley visited stores in person, sending out instructional videos and answering calls.
According to Church, $37,000 worth of Berkeley Bucks have been purchased so far and $15,000 has already been spent. Church hopes these e-gift cards will help students learn more about the city businesses around them.
“When you’re fresh on campus, there’s so much to learn, not just about campus itself, but about the city,” Church said. “It will be a great way for people to know that there is a lot outside of the community.”
Contact Rae Wymer at [email protected]and follow them on Twitter at @rae_wymer.