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IW gift certificates sell out in 90 minutes

Isle of Wight officials declared a local business-boosting initiative a success after implementing a do-over one day after the website hosting the program crashed due to high user interest and demand.

The #IsleShopSmall program used federal CARES Act funding to give discounted gift certificates to local businesses. Nov. 10 was initially the designated day for people to log on theisle.org and buy $40 gift certificates for $20. But after the website crashed, officials relaunched the initiative on Nov. 11.

Here’s how the program worked: businesses signed up to participate, and each dollar spent is doubled in value. The business receives all $40 immediately and the remainder is paid with CARES Act funding. The gift certificates are valid beginning Nov. 27 — Black Friday, which is traditionally considered the start of the holiday shopping season.

A third-party vendor supplied the technology for the gift certificate program, but the website went down after thousands of people logged on at the same time to try and get the deal on the afternoon of Nov. 10. Smithfield and Isle of Wight County Tourism, Isle of Wight County Economic Development and The Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce worked together on the local business initiative.

“All in all, this was a wildly successful program,” said chamber president Jessica Jones-Healey. “We had a total of 98 businesses participate with over 1,100 total transactions. The program sold out in about an hour and a half.”

Chris Morello, Isle of Wight’s director of economic development, said they anticipated a strong response.

“Plus, we had put a lot of energy into properly marketing the program to try to ensure success for the 98 businesses that had signed up and were counting on those sales at this tough time,” Morello said. “But the sheer volume of shoppers was not expected. While we wish technology would have been more cooperative on Nov. 10, this first-time experience has helped us understand more about the breadth, depth and passion that drove that overwhelming interest.”

If more funding becomes available, Morello said county staff and chamber leaders are considering another round for the gift card program. But, he added, that decision is ultimately up to the county’s top leaders.

“In the meantime, it’s important to keep in mind that the main purpose for doing it again would be for the county to continue doing what it can to help support and sustain our incredible business community,” Morello said. The chamber president agreed.

“We were amazed and encouraged at the overwhelming interest in this program and if more funds become available, we would absolutely facilitate a second round,” Jones-Healey said. “This program will allow us to inject $200,000 back into our local economy through our businesses in the coming week.”

Anyone who has questions after purchasing a gift certificate from the #IsleShopSmall event can email chamber@theisle.org. “We are getting back to everyone as quickly as we can,” the chamber said on social media. “Thank you again to everyone who supported this program!”