Last updated December, 2016
Did you know that gift cards are growing in popularity? Of course you did! There’s 2 camps on gift cards, and I like to think I land in one or the other camp based on the recipient, not just on my own personal bias. Afterall, giving a gift is about the person receiving it, not about me!
Are Gift Cards a Good Idea?
Option 1: Gift Cards Are Not A Good Idea There is the side that thinks a gift card is an unspoken way of saying “I give up” or “I couldn’t be bothered to spend time to come up with a gift idea for you.” A Wall Street Journal article stated that only 37% of consumers wanted a gift card during the 2014 Christmas Season, and somehow over 1/3 of North Americans wanting one meant they were unpopular.
Giving gifts is an act of love, and shows the recipient how much you care. If you simply give a gift card, that doesn’t take any thought to get for them, it doesn’t show the same care (for some reason the fact that you toiled in the hot sun to earn the money to load the gift card seems to mostly go unnoticed).
Studies state that the average person spends 14 hours searching for gifts for their loved ones during the holiday season, and it’s that effort that shows them you truly care.
Other studies show that when people are given “play money” like gift cards (a type of money that the recipient views as free), they are more likely to spend the money on things they don’t need. In addition, they are more likely to overspend as that same survey says gift card users spend up to 38% more than the value of the gift card.
If you’re thinking of giving a gift card to someone on a tight budget, don’t do it.If you think giving a gift card to someone who only likes ‘useful’ gifts is a good idea, it could actually encourage them to by less-useful things. Thus, you could just give them an un-useful present yourself and at least give them the feeling you actually care about them.
Option 2: Yes Gift Cards are a great gift Then there’s the group that realizes $124 billion spent on gift cards means they are a popular option. According to a research report by online retailer Rakuten, almost 75% of people won’t like the gifts they get during the Christmas Season. When you compare the 25% success vs the 37% that want a gift card, they seem like a safe bet. Yes, they may seem more personal, and yes, it may seem like you didn’t spend as much time or though purchasing a gift card, but in reality those feelings aren’t felt for long (if at all) by the gift recipient.
Unique Gift Cards
Over the past few years, there have been a number of new gift cards that have arrived.
Rather than simply giving a gift card for a certain dollar amount to a certain store or restaurant, consider giving a gift certificate type of gift that gives the user a specific experience. This could range anywhere from a go-kart rental for young kids, to skydiving or parachuting for an adult. Think outside the card (box) and give your loved one a spa treatment or maybe a cooking class or automotive class on how to change the oils or rotate your tires.
College Fund Gift Card
There are a number of companies that now provide a gift card that children and students can put into a 529 Savings Plan or a student loan. Sites like Gift Of College and Leaf Savings provide a way for you to purchase a gift card of any value up to $1000 that the recipient can redeem online and transfer into any 529 plan or use to pay off against an existing student loan. You don’t need the account information and in the US there is no transfer or additional fees.
If you do decide to go with a gift card, here’s some things to keep in mind:
What’s the best way to wrap a gift card?
To avoid the gift card from being a sort of ‘ho-hum’ type gift, give it some lift be being creative in how you give the card to the recipient. This is especially important if you plan on giving a gift card with a substantial value on it – it will help the recipient be as excited (and thankful) as you think they should be!
There are hundreds of creative ways to do it, but here are some of the best we’ve seen that don’t cost a bunch, but gives the recipient something to open and enjoy immediately.
Sure, you could be cool and wrap an iTunes gift card in a felt case that looks like an iPod, but the novelty wears off fast.It’s a crafty looking thing, but unless your gift recipient is also into crafty things, they’ll just want to know how much the iTunes card is worth and then this goes straight to the garbage pile with any wrapping paper shreds.
In our opinion, the best way to supplement a gift card is by wrapping it with a mini gift.
Here’s a few that we think are great ideas that work great at adding to the experience, and also give the card-getter something to enjoy right aways (yep – food is always great. In fact, there are studies that show if you give tasty food to someone they are more likely to listen/agree/hear what you are saying/telling/selling to them!)
Simply get a small tin, clean it out, add the gift card and some event-themed colored candy (for Christmas, red and green M&Ms are great), and then seal it up with a bit of fancy tape.
Here’s another simple, completely customisable, and fun way to wrap a gift card. Create a miniature snowglobe by glueing and painting a small landscape with your card in the middle. This could be customized to match the giftcard. For example, if the gift card is for a sports store, make a miniature ski-slope or if the gift card is for a game store, put tiny game pieces in the snowglobe.
If you’re willing to take a risk, you could even use a waterproof type lid like on a mason jar, and you could even fill the globe with water and white ‘snowflakes’. There’s a slight chance that the water would cause the magnetic strip on the gift card to stop working, but I’ve put gift cars through the laundry and they still work. Another thing to make sure of: make sure the gift card is actually plastic, and not cardboard or a plastic-cardboard hybrid!
If you’re giving a gift card to someone crafty (which can be a great idea because it’s very hard to know what craft supply a creative-type might be needing or wanting right now), consider attaching an ‘evergreen’ craft supply. By evergreen, I mean something that will always be useful, always in style. A notepad, or new set of pastels are always welcome. Then, figure out how to attach the gift card to it, and either wrap the whole deal, or present it as is.
See how easy this can be? I bet it wouldn’t have taken you long to think of putting a coffee card in a coffee mug, or even simpler, in a free disposable cup from Starbucks (accompanied with a Starbucks giftcard of course). If you use brown and white tissue paper, it can look like a latte or hot chocolate with whip cream in the cup, without ending up with a cold old drink that no one wants! Note: You may want to attach a little message that lets them know there is actually a gift card hidden in there, and not just a pile of garbage paper with a cute note on the outside.
For a bit of a prank-style wrapping for your gift card, you could try freezing it inside a block of ice. Then it’s up to the recipient to either be patient while it thaws, or try and get the gift card out. The bigger the block of ice, the better this gag is!
Freezing it in ice can also be a way to bring some wintery weather to a Christmas Gift for someone in a hot place that doesn’t get the typical ‘Christmas weather’ like Hawaii or California.
Gift Card Tips: Things to keep in mind
- You know that feeling when you spend $48.92 on a $50 gift card? Some countries/states have a law (California has since 2008) that less than $10 in value on a card is redeemable for cash.
- Avoid wasting gift card dollars by planning to spend the money fairly soon. It’s a gift, not your hard earned money, so go and treat yourself. Buy something you want, not just something you need – it can help you get out there and spend the gift rather than putting it in a drawer to be forgotten.
- When looking for a more unique gift card, keep in mind that if the retailer/provider goes out of business, the gift card becomes worthless and you can kiss your money goodbye.
- Each company has different terms for their gift cards, so be sure to read the fine print before purchasing. If you don’t like the terms, don’t be afraid to pick up your hat and go spend your dollars somewhere else.
Gift Card Facts and FAQs
How many gift cards go unused?
Each year, according to reasearch firm CEB, up to $1 Billion spent on gift cards goes unspent, that’s closing in on 1% of the total of $130 billion in gift cards purchased in 2015. That’s exactly why companies can provide discounts on gift cards if purchased in large quantities [Amazon.com, for example, has offered $500 gift cards for 10% off in the past].
Is it ok to give a gift card?
Of course! Even the best gift-getters can get it wrong sometimes, especially if the recipient is someone who is a very picky clothing shopper, or someone who has everything. Keep in mind that it is possible to get the wrong gift card too – make sure it’s to a store that has something they’ll like, or you could also opt for a gift certificate for an experience – think restaurant, coffee shop, or something more exciting even like an amusement park or adventure nearby where the recipient lives.
Why do retailers like gift cards so much?
There’s the chance that the card will go completely unused and get lost or thrown away, but it’s mostly because over 72% of people who purchase with a gift card spend more than the value of their card, averaging 20% more than the value of their gift card. That means when Grandma buys your teenager a $50 gift card, over 70% of the time the store will end up with a $60 purchase from your teenager.
If you think we’ve missed something in our Ultimate Guide to Gift Cards, or if you have a suggestion for when it is or isn’t appropriate to give a gift card, please let us know in the comments below!