Gift Cards

By Sharon Naylor

September 24, 2010 5 min read

When you give a gift card as a holiday present, you give more than a $25, $50 or $100 present of the recipient's choice. You give a guilt-free shopping spree. In these tough financial times, going out to restaurants, getting a mani-pedi and going to the movies might be rarities in a family's budget, so your gift card lets the recipient enjoy these treats without worry.

That perk has replaced the whole "gift cards are impersonal" debate that has made holiday shoppers think twice about giving those pretty plastic gift cards to loved ones on their shopping lists. Today's gift givers know how much they themselves love getting gift cards and checking out at a favorite store with a big $0 balance owed, and they know how blissful it is to buy clothes online at a retailer they couldn't otherwise afford without that generous gift card letting them shop to their heart's content.

Jack Bouchard of Philadelphia brings up a great point: "I think gift cards for clothing places are the way to go. It saves from the issues of buying something that someone won't like or something that doesn't fit. For me, a gift card to Kohl's is a great one. Especially this year as I was preparing for a job search and new career, it paid off HUGE!"

First Data, a consumer survey agency, reports that gift cards were a $24.9 billion industry in 2009, with a flurry of gift card purchases occurring during the last shopping days of the holiday season. Many gift givers took advantage of e-gift cards that allowed them to instantly send gifts online without paying for shipping or hassling with gift wrap; many of these e-gift cards even were sent on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. According to digital gift card incentive company CashStar, Christmas Eve was the highest-selling day of the year, with a stunning 39 percent of online gift cards being purchased and sent after 6 p.m. Eastern time.

Dollar values of gift cards were up 7.3 percent, and the number of gift cards sold was up, as well (by 6.7 percent), compared with 2008 figures.

Here are the most popular types of gift cards:

--Restaurants: Your gift card to a popular restaurant allows the recipient a fabulous date night on you. A side category of restaurants is bakeries, where your recipient can pick out an indulgent cake or cupcakes.

--Bookstore: The recipient gets the latest hot novel, Blu-ray Disc or CD release or that e-reader he or she has been wanting for so long.

--iTunes: The recipient can pick out fresh, new hit songs for iPod play during commutes, workouts and more. Even teens say this is a can't-fail gift for them.

--Home improvement stores: Whether your recipient's home is new or old, he or she needs to keep the place in working order and the garden pretty, so gift cards to The Home Depot and Lowe's are among the most appreciated.

--Beauty salon: Give the gift of a guilt-free mani-pedi, facial or eyebrow shaping to an overworked mom, a stressed-out grad student or a busy bride-to-be; your gift will be a hit.

--Supermarkets: Lindsay Contreras of Brick, N.J., says, "In this economy, I appreciate (gift cards to) food stores and things I can really use. Now that I'm a mommy, I really don't look for gifts for me. Stretching the dollar these days is most important!"

--Clothing stores: Job hunters appreciate your help in getting that great interview outfit.

One big trend in gift card giving is staying local, supporting small businesses in your hometown by giving their gift cards out as presents to nearby friends and family members. Supporting your town's small businesses helps your community thrive, which is an extra perk to giving those guilt-free gift cards to everyone on your list!

Can't afford higher-value gift cards? A fabulous holiday trend right now is to purchase three or four small-value gift cards ($10 to $20, for instance) to local beauty supply stores, garden centers, beauty salons, supermarkets, pet stores, movie theaters, etc., and include them among your recipients' stocking stuffers.

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