The pain of international iTunes Gift Card giveaways

Today’s iDevBlogADay entry is going to be part rant and part hack. As any small dev with a tight budget, we are also continuously looking for wallet-friendly new ways to engage our audience. Recently we have decided to give away iTunes Gift Cards for a few of our users who responded to our announcement. We thought it would be a simple and quick way to engage them in some interaction. We could not have been more wrong.

The Problem

Simply put: if you purchase a Gift Certificate in one store (eg. US store), it can only be redeemed in the same store. Forget about giving it out to users in other countries!

The Rant

The harsh reality of constraints the wobbly ugly giant called iTunes enforces on us is appalling to me. I am pretty sure the lack of flexibility is the result of an old and monstrous backend designed for the music industry in mind 10 years ago and the App Store architecture is still sitting on top of an outdated backend which is just being stuffed with more and more modules over time and eventually becoming utter chaos. We might see a slow separation of the App Store from the rest of iTunes like we see on OS X, but I think it is going to be a very slow and cautious transition. So if we don’t want to wait 5 years to give out those Gift Cards to our lucky winners, what can we do?

I have called Apple to see what they would say about the possibility of sending Gift Certificates to people using other stores and their official response was that it is not possible. By the way, I don’t know if you have called 1-800-MY-APPLE recently but I’m pretty sure their automated clerk is also a Siri implementation, it’s worth a try I was laughing so hard it was so ridiculous to me.

  1. it announces happily that he is a robot and able to understand full sentences so we should talk to him properly
  2. you talk to him, and then you will hear a pre-recorded sound of someone typing on a keyboard. Apple is really trying to give you the impression there’s a real rep sitting on the other side of the phone. It was so absurd for me I really couldn’t help start laughing. Some people might prefer this fake environment where we imitate a more intimate human-human interaction but if you start your conversation with an I AM ROBOT announcement then don’t try to make me feel like you are human, you insidious digital entity! From a technical point of view though, I believe this few-second sound is a necessary delay because in the meanwhile your speech is being analyzed and put into context, a huge database is being queried and then a proper answer formulated. Much like when Siri “thinks” about your answers on your phone.
  3. it finds a few keywords in your sentences and tries to interrogate you along those lines
  4. it either manages to give you a satisfactory answer or just redirect to a real human being (in my case this happened)

So after this little intermezzo I was talking with Apple’s reps and although they were super-polite and friendly (really, any company training customer service personnel, you know where you should look for examples to follow!), they weren’t able to help me with my problem.

The Hack

Looks like the options to solve this case will be unofficial, even might be frowned upon. By reading various forums, I saw reports stating it is possible to buy a gift card in a specific store, then asking the beneficiary to use the gift card to register an account in the store of purchase. I really don’t like this approach because from a user’s point of view it’s a lot of hassle, and we are forcing him to create an additional account for the sole purposes of using their gift card (not to mention forcing him to break T&C rules by providing a fake address for the new account). Then his purchased items would belong to that account and not his regular one… Not a way I would choose for sure. Might be a good bullet point in a How To Alienate Customers blog post though.


After spending several hours on research, I still haven’t found a proper way to do international iTunes Gift Card giveaways. Have you done it successfully before? Is there any way to facilitate such campaigns?

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4 comments on “The pain of international iTunes Gift Card giveaways

  1. I guess the issue is rooted in rights holders restricting content to specific regions. If you could use a gift card bought in Germany to credit an US iTunes account, it would be too easy to circumvent those restrictions. A gift card and a fake address is all you need for an iTunes account after all.

    • Yeah I see your point, that’s why I am blaming the iTunes backend as it is unable to cope with such things.

  2. How about ordering physical gift cards from Amazon in the target country. I live in USA but order from when I send gifts to family in England.

    • Thanks that’s a good tip! Although it involves harassing users to give their physical address it still might be the only officially accepted solution. Also we should make sure that Amazon sells gift cards in each country we plan to send them to users :)