Holiday gift cards: The perfect present or too impersonal?
Where would we terrible holiday gift givers be without gift cards? asked Michelle Singletary in The Washington Post. Some 56 percent of shoppers said they plan to give at least one gift card this year, according to the National Retail Federation, putting cards second only to clothing. A gift card might not elicit the same squeals of delight that come with giving the perfect present, but hey, it’s the thought that counts, right? Alas, it turns out we “aren’t even getting the right cards.” Close to $1 billion loaded onto gift cards went unredeemed last year, according to CEB TowerGroup, a corporate insight and tech company. “For those of us who are not perfect-gift givers, maybe our money would be better spent if we just give people cash.” Gift cards are handy when you don’t know what somebody actually wants, said Eric Ravenscraft in Lifehacker.com,but the plastic “comes with a hidden demand for work.” Givers basically outsource the job of finding a good gift to the card recipient. Specific gift cards, like for a restaurant, may be easier to buy, “but an Amazon or Visa gift card can be used for nearly everything.”
“Gift cards may seem like the only reasonable solution when you’re dealing with, say, the ever-changing whims of your teenage nieces and nephews,” said Liz Weston in CBSNews.com.
In fact, 6 out of 10 people say they actually want to receive gift cards this year, according to the National Retail Federation. If that’s the case for someone on your list, make it happen. “But we shouldn’t give up on trying to find real gifts for the people we love.” To be a better gift giver, ignore all those holiday gift guides, sales, and promotions and use your eyes, ears, and heart. What is the person passionate about? What would bring a little joy to her life, or make his day easier? “It’s an exercise in empathy that takes us out of ourselves and brings us closer to the people we love.” And don’t worry: “No one gets it right every time.”
You can, however, use gift cards to your own advantage while shopping for the perfect present, said Tom Anderson in CNBC.com. “Savvy shoppers can buy gift cards at steep discounts using online marketplaces, such as Cardpool, Gift Card Granny, and Raise, to pay for holiday gifts.” Unused gift cards are sold on these online exchanges (sellers often can get 80 cents or more on the dollar, depending on the card); thrifty holiday shoppers can then buy those discounted cards and use them for markdowns on purchases. Just be sure to use exchange sites that offer purchase protection and return policies. Used gift cards sold on sites like Craigslist provide ample opportunity for fraud.