Don't look a gift voucher in the mouth

Mother of two and ex-software reseller Michelle Deaker is on the cusp of success. Together with brother James Markham, Deaker is chief executive officer (or co-CEO, as she calls it) of an innovative business that utilises the best of the Web with support from bricks-and-mortar retailers to sell brand-name gift vouchers via the Internet for a percentage of their value.

Deaker explains that through the site,, 'you can buy vouchers from the 16 Australian retail customers listed on the site and have the voucher delivered either physically in a nicely wrapped package or through e-mail with an attention-getting attachment.

'Your recipient then prints out the e-mailed version or takes the mailed voucher and redeems it at the store.'

The directors of's holding company, Ecom, are confident the service will be a sure winner, as it possesses elements they tout as essential for e-commerce success. For example, according to Deaker, the service is convenient for all parties and even those retailers that had been reticent about e-commerce before approached them can now see that the concept delivers value for money for all involved parties.

'Retailers like it because it provides access to global Internet dollars and it drives people into stores. For the shopper, buying vouchers online takes the hassle out of finding the right present and then posting it which, if being sent overseas, can often cost more than the gift itself. And because it's online, there's no geographical borders, so once the service goes global, shoppers can buy in other countries from retailers they would normally not have access to.'

The idea for the online gift voucher shop came about on Mother's Day last year, when the extended Deaker family was talking over lunch about Internet business opportunities. Then Deaker's husband, IT manager Graeme Deaker, said: 'What about gift vouchers?' The idea caught the family's imagination and the suggestion developed into a rough business plan.

First thing that next Monday morning, Deaker purchased the international URL

She began researching the world gift voucher market and found no Australian competitors. Deaker believes there are possibly two gift services in the UK and many in the US. Realising a big local opportunity, Deaker, together with brother James, hurried to make the idea a reality before bigger players struck first. They quickly bought a company, wrote a business plan, recruited key partners and turned the URL into an e-commerce site.

For the site to be successful, however, there was always going to be one big catch. For the service, and therefore the site, to be successful, it was critical for to gain the support of key nationwide retailers; that is, retailers accessible to the population that sell products people want to give away as gifts.

To its credit,'s Australian business now has Dymocks, Sanity Music, Giorgio Armani, Lush, Country Road, Roger David, Jag and Jag Junior, Adele Palmer, IN2 Music, Bras N Things and Cuddle 'N' Mum in its stable, with more retailers waiting to be listed on the site.

When talking about the business plan, Deaker said, recruiting key directors and partners was critical. 'Each of the four directors has provided invaluable input since inception. I developed the Web site, James has taken care of delivery through e-mail, my father-in-law came up with the redemption system and ad man Julian Horton developed the advertising and marketing strategies.

'We chose [our partners] carefully. We looked at their credentials and whether they had a global reach.' The directors enlisted accountants Deloittes and the call centre solution Tele Performance because both companies had an international presence.

The next move is the launch of the New Zealand service next month, with intentions for a similar service in the UK and the US by mid next year. In the long term, the company plans to launch in Asia.

But unlike in Australia, is set to face some tough competition in the UK and US markets. Yet Deaker is not worried.

'Our system is a very simple one to roll out and that's how we've tried to develop it. We tied it in with a call centre solution that can take us into most of the major countries we want to go. We can offer the help desk and everything else that is really needed to give the customer service.'

Going global meant Ecom required a payment gateway that handled international transactions, which then exposes the business to credit card fraud. Such requirements eliminated most of the gateways on the market in Australia, Deaker said. 'We chose Cybersource, which allows us to transact in 27 currencies and has a higher rate of fraud detection than other gateways. I want my shoppers to make one transaction and not many over various countries. Cybersource gives us that.'

It's all about providing the best service to retailers and the public, Deaker concluded. And if backed up with action, this obviously well researched and planned business might push her and fellow directors into the heady realms of success.