Selling Customized Gift Certificates: A Case Study

I’m not sure about you, but we here have definitely been weaving in and out of Space Madness lately. Never seen Ren & Stimpy’s Space Madness? Oh no! Check it out. Lately I especially relate to the gravity free bath soap scene…


Back to Reality…

Most retailers — and all businesses for that matter — are scrambling to stay afloat during the Great Shutdown of 2020. Here we are no different. Aside from building and supporting WordPress plugins, Little Package Web also builds and services websites near and far. Clients want to know: when it’s impossible to have customers in the store and clients face-to-face, how can money be made? One fairly obvious, and earnest-enough, method is by selling your reputation on paper: gift certificates and gift vouchers. For many businesses there is a real opportunity for income here. And many (future) loyal customers understand that purchasing gift certificates is a way to support businesses right now. They know that by making these purchases, when the Great Shutdown begins to heal, their community might look closer to how it did in 2019.

I’ll show you how to sell a customized PDF online which customers can print and redeem. This would work for any type of PDF document, whether it be a diploma or an award or you name it. PDFs can be watermarked or altered with additional text or images using existing software libraries. If you have a WordPress site, you can sell or give away free PDFs using either WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads. Both options allow you to accept credit cards, PayPal, Apple Pay, etc. and both allow for bookkeeping data to be stored (WooCommerce collects and stores more data from the customer by default). If using WooCommerce, you would need WaterWoo PDF (free version) or WaterWoo PDF Premium to watermark your certificates or other PDF documents. If using Easy Digital Downloads, use EDDiMark.

Design Your PDF

First you’ll need a PDF of the document you’d like to distribute online. Here is a webpage of free 8.5×11″ PDF samples to give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

If none of these look quite like what you need, you’ll need to pull on your creative gloves and get to work. Make a PDF document which your customers will be pleased to print and present as gifts. Leave a couple areas on it where you might print customized text. This is what will make your certificate special.

As an example, here is a certificate I quickly designed last week for Sierra Mountain Center, of Bishop California:

image of smc gift certificate

Decide Where To Make Your Mark

On the certificate I designed, there is a white boxed area on the upper edge where a watermark can be added. (It could also be added to the “To” and “From” fields, but I’ll leave that to the purchaser.) In that white box, a custom gift code can be printed, and/or maybe an expiration date (if that’s legal in your state). That’s where we are going to watermark a code based on the order number. When redeemed, the gift certificate can be verified as valid by checking that code against the e-commerce order number. Sierra Mountain Center (SMC) uses WooCommerce, and their gift certificate is a “variable” product (with gift certificate dollar amounts being variable). So, a customer chooses the dollar amount of their certificate, goes through the checkout process, and is delivered a watermarked PDF which they can print and share at their discretion.

For our SMC PDF, we want to print a special code in the box along the upper edge. Using shortcodes in the watermarking text, WaterWoo and EDDiMark allow you to add customer- and order-specific data to each PDF, on the fly:

  • Customer name (first, last or both)
  • Customer phone number
  • Customer email
  • Date
  • Order number

In our case we will use the [ORDERNUMBER] shortcode. Shortcodes are magic. In WaterWoo settings, our watermark is simply


but when a customer purchases a PDF certificate and downloads it, their unique order number is added to the PDF.

You will also be able to use different font styles, font sizes, and colors so that your certificate looks just how you need it. The watermark can be moved around the page, millimeter by millimeter to be placed where you need it. And in case you need it in two places on the page, WaterWoo and EDDiMark allow for two watermark positions.

Et VoilĂ !

Here is an example of a finished product, with the watermark circled:

the pdf is watermarked with code and expiration date

(In case you dream of traveling in the beautiful High Sierra with the most experienced local guides, these gift certificates are available 30% off until mid-May at SMC gift certificates do NOT expire.)


What’s especially nice is the customer gets a certificate instantly which they can print how they like, when they like, or just share digitally as a PDF via email. Your office spends no time or effort on ordering, shipping and handling paper cards, but income trickles in and word spreads. Another great thing about delivering certificates digitally online as PDFs is that customers can return to their account portals ( by default, with WooCommerce, for example) to re-download their PDF later. The customer is not “out of luck” if they have lost their card, and yet they do not necessarily need office help to recover it. Win win.

And A Pep Talk

While I’m here, some other ideas for small businesses: Keep busy engaging with your (future) loyal customers. If you are in the position to entertain them or cheer them up, or to engage them with your staff in performing acts of goodwill, they will remember. Imprint your brand where you can without being pushy or annoying – be pleasant and helpful.

Spend the downtime reviewing and honing your business plan, reflecting on what has gone well, and pushing to think outside the box. You might find that your business model shifts significantly to reflect values uncovered by these incredibly stressful times.

Keep your head up, do your best, and know that even if you don’t earn financial reward, karmic reward is always due.